OSHA fines Salem fitness center $126K for ‘willfully’ violating COVID rules

Oregon OSHA has fined a Salem fitness center $126,749 for willfully continuing to potentially expose employees to the infectious coronavirus disease despite a public health order to limit the capacity to zero for such establishments in “extreme risk” counties.

The fine – the result of an inspection launched in response to multiple complaints – was issued against Capitol Racquet Sports Inc. for willfully refusing to comply at its Courthouse Club facility on Commercial Street Southeast.

“We understand that this employer is attempting to do a number of things to keep employees safe without shutting down, but that does not allow them to substitute their judgment for that of the public health authorities,” said Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Wood

It is the largest penalty issued to an employer by Oregon OSHA for a violation related to COVID-19.

The division cited the violation as “willful” and, at the discretion of the administrator, imposed the maximum penalty allowed.

“It is our expectation that employers follow well-founded health regulations that are directly intended to protect workers from a genuine hazard,” Wood said. “And while we have been able to use engagement and education to resolve most COVID-19 complaints involving employers, we will also continue to bring our enforcement tools to bear as needed.”

The citation is, to date, the fifth one issued against the company for willfully disregarding health protections against COVID-19.

In November 2020, Oregon OSHA issued citations against each of the company’s four operating fitness facilities after conducting complaint-based inspections.

Those inspections found the company operating the facilities in defiance of public health measures included in Gov. Kate Brown’s Nov. 17 executive order.

That order implemented a temporary two-week freeze to stop the rapid spread of the virus. Capitol Racquet Sports continued operating after the order was effective. It did so after Oregon OSHA’s initial inquiries. And it did so after the division’s posting of Red Warning Notices at the four fitness-related facilities. The total penalty for all four locations was $90,000 for willful and Red Warning Notice violations.

The citation carrying the $126,749 penalty stems from an inspection opened Dec. 9. at only one of those four fitness establishments inspected in November.

The inspection found Capitol Racquet Sports continuing to intentionally disregard public health orders and Oregon OSHA notices to close the facility. The willful lack of compliance continues to potentially expose employees and member clients to COVID-19.

In keeping the facility open to member clients, the company is choosing to disregard limitations imposed by the Oregon Health Authority for such an establishment in a county designated as Extreme Risk.

County risk levels are part of the state’s public health framework for reducing transmission of the coronavirus disease. Health and safety measures are assigned for each level.

The current citation against Capitol Racquet Sports was issued under Oregon OSHA’s temporary rule to address COVID-19 risks in the workplace – specifically, the appendices spelling out industry-specific requirements.

Employers have 30 days to appeal citations. Capitol Racquet Sports appealed the four citations issued in November 2020.

In addition to its enforcement activities, Oregon OSHA offers employers and workers a variety of consultation, information, and education resources addressing COVID-19.

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