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Michigan issues $33,400 in fines for workplaces violating COVID rules

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Six businesses were cited and fined a total of $33,400 by Michigan regulators for failing to uphold public health and safety practices implemented to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

The citations were issued as the Whitmer administration's monthly complaint average rose fivefold from 200 prior to the pandemic to about 1,000.

"We’ve received more complaints since March than we did in calendar years ’18 and ’19," said Bart Pickelman, director of the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The citations are not issued under any of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive orders, but instead are issued under the administration's general duty clause requiring employers to provide a safe workplace, Pickelman said.

The majority of the increase in complaints are COVID-19 related and encompass both detailed and vague complaints about businesses, he said. 

The increase has prompted the agency, Pickelman said, to "come up with a triage method, where some of those complaints that aren’t as serious or don’t have a lot of information, they get responded to with a letter to the employer.”

The citations, which carry up to $7,000 fines, were issued under the MIOSHA's "general duty" clause to a Livonia UPS distribution facility, United Shore Financial Services in Pontiac, a Waterford Speedway, fitness center Coop's Iron Works in Saginaw, Eaton Rapids contractor Dan Freed and Niles-based Hills Roofing. 

Constructions workers resume work at a Michigan site in May 2020.

The onsite inspections were conducted after an extensive education effort by the agency, said Sean Egan, director Michigan COVID-19 Workplace Safety. The agency also has made available consultation staff at (517) 284-7720 to answer questions about the ways in which businesses must comply with COVID-19 safety restrictions.

"Those tools have been available for months now," said Egan, noting a "vast majority" of businesses are doing their best to comply with COVID-related safety precautions.

Employers cited by MIOSHA have 15 days from the time they received the citation to contest the decision. Employers must fix the issues cited before the complaint is considered resolved. 

At United Shore Financial Services, where more than 50 workers were found to have contracted the virus earlier this month, employees failed to wear face masks in shared office spaces, met in large groups of more than 120 without face masks and weren't notified within 24 hours when an employee tested positive for COVID-19, MIOSHA said in a statement.

United Shores was fined $6,300 after the inspection prompted by employee complaints. 

A Waterford Speedway gas station, according to MIOSHA, was fined $6,300 because employees weren't either wearing face coverings or wearing them properly. The employer also failed to conduct training or health screenings, didn't make a COVID-19 response plan available to employees, and failed to provide free face coverings to employees, the administration said.

A UPS distribution facility in Livonia didn't make sure sorters and loaders were given daily health screenings and didn't ensure social distancing among drivers and loaders in the facility, MIOSHA said in a statement. Additionally, employers allegedly failed to wear face masks, failed to provide sufficient cleaning protocol, didn't provide employee training on COVID-19 and implemented their COVID-19 preparedness plans inadequately. 

The UPS facility was fined $7,000. 

Coop's Iron Works, a Saginaw gym open in violation of the governor's orders, had about 20 positive cases associated with it before MIOSHA was requested by the local health department to investigate, Pickelman said.

The gym had not developed a preparedness plan, training or health screenings for employees, according to MIOSHA. The facility allegedly did not require employees to wear face masks, configure exercise areas so they were separated by 6-10 feet, kept saunas open and failed to keep accurate lists of attendees. 

While working at a Grand Ledge site, Freed's employees were working within six feet of each other and weren't wearing masks, MIOSHA said. In addition, Freed had not developed a preparedness plan or training, state regulators said. 

He was fined $6,400. 

Hills Roofing was fined $5,300 because workers were within six feet of each other and failed to wear face masks, according to a state release. The company allegedly had not prepared a COVID-19 response plan or training.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com