Tennessee OSHA office received 164 COVID-19 complaints in a month, documents show

Coronavirus

Accounts reflect employees' fear for their health in their workplaces

TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – Employees across the state fear their workplace conditions aren’t conducive to mitigating the spread of COVID-19, documents from the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration office show.

A records request for documents from March 1 through April 6 show 164 of the 232 complaints (about 71%) filed in that time period were related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Identifiable information in the documents is redacted. A representative with TOSHA said that when the office gets complaints, the office sends a letter to the business in question reiterating recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control.

“The typical spread of germs in the workplace is not governed by any workplace health standard, other than sanitation, which requires soap and water be made available for employee hygiene,” Chris Cannon, assistant administrator for communication for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said in a statement to WJHL.

Cannon said that Tennessee OSHA can’t require the employer to cease operations.

The documents reveal the fears of employees noting their coworkers coming to work sick and employers not enforcing physical distancing standards.

“(M)ore (and) more are being sent home to be test(ed) for showing symptoms, yet the plant is still running,” reads one report from March 28. “I believe this will only get worse and continue to spread.”

Dozens more report insufficient personal protective equipment, employers refusing requests to work from home and some report that employers aren’t taking the pandemic seriously enough.

One report dated April 3 details an account of an employee who wrote that officials within their company told them to lie to code enforcement about having disinfecting spray.

“When they check our temperature and someone has a high temperature they tell them to put their head under a fan to make the temperature go down for the time being,” reads the complaint.

The first report in this time period was recorded on March 5. Twenty reports were made on April 2 alone, and the agency received a total of 80 complaints last week.

One complainant wrote on Monday that management at their company went around to employees with an oral thermometer to take temperatures, wiping the thermometer with a sanitation wipe between employees.

“I (redacted) refused to comply due to the fact a person can be infected (without) a temperature!” the report reads. “Plant manager then stated I was fired for not following the new plant COVID-19 guidelines.

“I am worried for my (family’s) safety I can’t chance my baby getting this virus,” writes another complainant dated April 2, reporting that two coworkers were sent home with fevers. They also reported a lack of running water, soap, hand sanitizer and toilet paper at their workplace.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee gave local law enforcement agencies the authority to enforce his executive orders 17 and 21, which closed certain non-essential businesses and limited operations of other businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses.

Read more: Law enforcement address Gov. Lee’s letter asking them to enforce executive orders

Lee said in a press conference last week that concerned citizens should report businesses not adhering to these orders to law enforcement, who in turn have the authority to issue citations for violating the order.

Kingsport Police Department Capt. Andy Seabolt told News Channel 11 last week that officers wouldn’t be out policing people, but encouraged essential employees to begin carrying paperwork.

“A violation of the governor’s executive order would be their violation,” he said last week. “We’re not interested in writing people citations… that’s not what we’re here for.”

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