Coronavirus-related violations account for about 15 percent of Washington’s farms dinged by health and safety regulators in 2020.
The state Department of Labor and Industries inspected 384 agricultural employers through Oct. 31 this year and found health and safety violations at 130 of them, according to a department news release on Nov. 12. Of those, about 20 were related to requirements intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and half of those involved housing problems, the release said.
Fruit companies were among the farms issued the state’s most expensive fines. According to Labor and Industries:
—King Fuji Ranch of Mattawa was fined $13,500 for shelter group workers interacting with other groups and not social distancing. The company has 15 days to appeal.
—Gebbers Farms Operations of Bridgeport was fined $13,200 for violations including shelter group workers interacting with other group members and not having barriers in cooking areas. The company has 15 days to appeal.
—Evans Fruit Co. of the Yakima Valley was fined $6,600 for employees not wearing masks, taking temperatures or social distancing. Evans has appealed.
Gebbers Farms told Good Fruit Grower it plans to appeal and shared a statement attributed to the farm’s management:
“There is nothing more important to Gebbers Farms than its workers and their safety. In August, less than one percent (.7%) or our workers tested positive for the virus. We have worked tirelessly to ensure we are doing everything possible to protect employees at work, and to help them understand how to reduce the risk of community transmission. The farm worked with an infectious disease expert to develop Covid-19 prevention measures, and in its appeal, the farm will ask that these efforts be recognized.”
Evans Fruit Co. declined to comment and King Fuji Ranch could not be reached for comment.
L&I has 80 investigations still open, including investigations involving Evans Fruit and fatalities at Gebbers.
—by Ross Courtney