SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Oregon OSHA announced Tuesday it has fined a Florence restaurant, The New Blue Hen, $17,800 for willfully exposing workers to COVID-19. It also said several people, one with a gun, blocked the door and threatened compliance officers doing an inspection.
The agency said the business did so despite knowing it was violating a public health order limiting the capacity for indoor dining to zero in an “Extreme Risk” county.
The fine was the result of an inspection opened in response to multiple complaints about The New Blue Hen. The inspection was carried out despite several people – including one carrying a firearm – who blocked the business’s entrance and threatened compliance officers, OSHA said.
Using his discretionary authority under state law, Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Wood imposed a $17,800 penalty, which is twice the minimum penalty for a willful violation. The decision reflects the need to ensure a more appropriate deterrent effect where employers insist on disregarding public health measures.
Such willful behavior puts employees at risk and enables the employer to achieve a competitive advantage over businesses that choose to comply with workplace health and safety standards, the agency said.
“Most employers are choosing to do the right thing,” Wood said, “even as they face very real economic hardships. As for those relatively few employers who are working against our shared project to defeat this disease, we will continue our enforcement work, in the interest of accountability.”
Oregon OSHA cited one violation of the division’s temporary rule to address COVID-19 risks in the workplace:
- In allowing indoor dining, The New Blue Hen purposely chose to disregard capacity limitations imposed by the Oregon Health Authority for such establishments in a county designated as Extreme Risk. It was a willful violation. Oregon OSHA proposed a discretionary penalty of $17,800.
Because of safety concerns, two compliance officers were assigned to open the inspection. When they arrived at the restaurant Jan. 4, they were met by several people standing outside the entrance of the business, one of whom carried a firearm.
The compliance officers identified themselves and asked to speak with the business owner. They were threatened and told to leave. The officers politely left. As the officers walked to their cars, the people outside the entrance followed them. The people shouted at the officers as the officers left the parking lot.
The inspection of The New Blue Hen – doing business as Little Brown Hen – found the employer committing the violation beginning on or about Dec. 26, 2020, and continuing to do so afterward. The inspection included visual confirmation of indoor dining and a Jan. 5 phone interview with owner Stacey Brown, who said she understood the public health rules regarding the spread of the disease in Lane County.
Employers have 30 days to appeal citations.
In addition to its enforcement activities, Oregon OSHA offers employers and workers a variety of consultation, information, and education resources addressing COVID-19.
Oregon OSHA, a division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services, enforces the state’s workplace safety and health rules and works to improve workplace safety and health for all Oregon workers. For more information, visit osha.oregon.gov.
The Department of Consumer and Business Services is Oregon’s largest business regulatory and consumer protection agency. For more information, go to www.dcbs.oregon.gov.