The Albany Lowe’s home improvement store has been fined $17,500 and cited by the state of Oregon for willfully disregarding COVID-19 safety rules, Oregon Occupational Safety and Health announced on Monday.
The Redmond Lowe’s store also was fined $17,500 and cited for failing to enforce the facial covering rule, according to Oregon OSHA’s news release.
The stores potentially exposed employees to COVID-19 by willfully failing to ensure that all customers wore a mask, face covering or face shield to prevent the spread of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, Oregon OSHA said.
A coronavirus outbreak connected to the Albany Lowe’s that sickened five people was reported by the Oregon Health Authority in late March, then deemed resolved earlier this month. Another outbreak at the Lowe’s Distribution Center in Lebanon resulted in at least 30 cases this winter.
An Albany store manager, contacted late Thursday afternoon, declined to comment about the citation and fine, referring the newspaper to Lowe’s corporate offices in North Carolina. An email and phone call to the company regarding this article weren’t returned by deadline.
The Albany Lowe’s is only the third mid-Willamette Valley business or organization to be cited by Oregon OSHA for COVID-19 workplace safety violations, and all three are in Linn County. Benton County has had zero such fines, according to agency data.
National Frozen Foods in Albany was fined $2,000 in April 2020 for failing to protect workers from the spread of the illness. An outbreak connected to National Frozen Foods that spring sickened 41 people. The company failed to implement physical distancing policies after knowing that multiple employees on packaging lines in the facility tested positive for COVID-19, according to Oregon OSHA.
The Albany plant for National Frozen Foods had another outbreak that sickened 16 people this year.
In May, Barenbrug USA in Tangent was fined $200 by Oregon OSHA. Employees in the administrative office of the company were not following COVID-19 guidelines even in the wake of multiple positive tests for employees at the location.
Oregon OSHA inspected the Albany Lowe’s this spring in response to multiple complaints, the agency said. Through employer and employee interviews and an examination of records, the inspections determined supervisors at the stores were fully aware of the requirement to ensure customer use of facial coverings and yet decided against carrying out these responsibilities.
“It is not enough to leave the protection of employees in the hands of cooperative customers,” said Michael Wood, administrator for Oregon OSHA. “As most employers recognize, they must take appropriate steps to ensure that the rules in place are actually followed. When an employer is not prepared to take such steps, we can and will use our enforcement tools to address the issue.”
The Redmond Lowe’s store also had two other violations, and was fined $300 in each instance. It did not develop and implement a complete risk assessment to identify potential employee exposure to the virus. The Redmond Lowe’s store also failed to develop and implement an infection control plan, the news release states.
Lowe’s has 30 days to appeal the citations.