Michigan set to inspect stores, restaurants and ensure COVID-19 rules compliance

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

State occupational health safety officials will conduct inspections of Michigan businesses to ensure compliance with state rules governing operations amid the coronavirus pandemic, the state said Monday.  

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a "State Emphasis Program" Monday that will conduct inspections at restaurants, bars, gas stations and retailers such as grocery stores and convenience stores to ensure compliance with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive orders. 

Summer Sahm, restaurant manager at Horn's Bar, thinks the island will be understaffed for holiday crowds this summer.

The agency seeks to "educate and seek compliance," but facilities found to have major compliance violations with COVID-19 requirements could face up $7,000 in penalties. Inspections will be both random and by referral.

“Employers need to put certain safeguards in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety and health of their employees," MIOSHA Director Bart Pickelman said.

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association hopes the state will collaborate with restaurants to ensure compliance amid changing state directives, said Justin Winslow, president and CEO for the association.

"We hope MIOSHA takes a collaborative approach instead of an immediately punitive one with the industry," he said. "$7,000 for a first offense seems potentially extreme, especially given the myriad of executive orders that change almost daily.”

Michigan retailers hoped for similar collaboration, noting the issues store clerks and managers have had enforcing the state's mask mandate. 

"If their goal is truly to educate and seek compliance, then that’s fine," said Meegan Holland, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Retailers Association. "But if it's going to penalize stores for sometimes unrealistic expectations of what a store can do, then it's wrong.”

Inspectors will check for daily health screenings of employees, cleaning protocol, mask use, social distancing and capacity considerations, and indoor ventilation that reduces the transmission of the virus.

Most businesses are complying with the governor's orders, said Jeff Donofrio, director for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Activities.

"This new initiative is aimed at helping them educate employees and customers on best practices and assure that all workplaces remain safe for the community,” Donofrio said.

The new program is partly a response to an increase in cases in Michigan. The state's percent positive rate has been gradually increasing as have the daily case loads.