A coronavirus outbreak at an Ohio plastics and metal auto parts firm, including what authorities said was a work-related COVID-19 death, is prompting fines and citations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
OSHA announced Jan. 14 that it was proposing fines of $26,527 against Sanoh America Inc., saying that the company did not follow proper health guidelines at a plant in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and that it suffered a coronavirus outbreak in August that hospitalized several employees, with two workers dying.
"OSHA investigators determined that at least one of the deaths was work related," the agency said in a statement. "[The] company did not enforce its own policy or federal guidelines on social distancing and mask wearing."
Officials with Sanoh America, however, said OSHA has not explained why they consider the cases work-related and said the surrounding community was having an outbreak at the same time.
The company, based in Findlay, Ohio, said it is committed to worker health and safety and COVID-19 prevention.
"OSHA has not explained to us why four of 88 COVID-19 cases that occurred within 34 days within its Mount Vernon workforce are work-related," said Plant Manager Jason Comer. "During this time, Mount Vernon was experiencing a large community-wide COVID-19 outbreak."
Sanoh said before the community outbreak, it had one case of COVID-19 in six months in its workforce and that case was not determined to be work-related.
"The facility COVID-19 prevention plan was in place and working," Comer said. "After this community-wide outbreak, COVID-19 cases among our workforce immediately subsided."
"We will meet with OSHA to understand its enforcement position and evaluate our appeal options," he said.
For its part, OSHA said it responded to a complaint that the company was "ignoring guidelines to limit employee exposure," and found that when it first inspected the plant Aug. 12, 65 employees had tested positive for the coronavirus.
By Aug. 31, 88 had tested positive, with five employees hospitalized and two later dying, OSHA said.
It said the company had issued a corporatewide social distancing policy in March 2020 and trained employees on precautions for returning to work, including distancing and mask wearing.
OSHA said, however, that "the company did not follow these policies during the August 2021 breakout and OSHA inspection."
"Sanoh America's failure to follow health and safety guidelines and its own company policies resulted in worker illnesses and death," said Larry Johnson, area director for the Columbus, Ohio, office. "OSHA continues to enforce all standards applying to the coronavirus and holds employers accountable for failing to meet their obligations to minimize worker exposure to the coronavirus."
OSHA is citing the company for one serious and one other-than-serious violation, and it said the company failed to record the work-related death and notify the agency within eight hours, as required.
The company has 15 days to contest the OSHA penalty.
In a publicly available inspection report, the agency said the company did not take "immediate" steps during the outbreak.
"Employees worked and congregated in close proximity without face coverings or without wearing face coverings over nose and mouth, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), leading to exposures among unvaccinated employees," OSHA said. "The employer failed to take immediate and effective steps to identify, inform and remove all potentially exposed employees in the days thereafter."
Sanoh America makes plastic and metal tubing products for the automotive market. Besides the Findlay location, it has manufacturing plants in Alabama, Indiana and Ontario.