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OSHA's Job Is Workplace Safety. In the Covid-19 -3-

03/04/2021 | 11:40am EDT

The Division said it follows federal OSHA-mandated protocols for responding to complaints. Federal OSHA's standard letter, however, says employers should be asked to report the result of their internal investigations. It also says that a number of OSHA rules might apply to Covid-19 hazards.

By the end of April, Covid-19 cases at the poultry plant numbered 80, according to county health documents. The county and the company jointly signed an agreement outlining safety measures.

In May, William Moore, a 29-year-old worker at the plant, began to feel sick. After about a week, he died of Covid-19. Butterball didn't report his death to North Carolina OSH. A spokeswoman for the company said it didn't believe he had contracted the virus at work.

Mr. Moore's family members said he avoided nearly all activities and social contact except traveling to and from the Butterball plant.

Butterball said its voluntary protocols at the time "were consistent with those of other manufacturers, evolving CDC and OSHA guidance and available" protective equipment. It said its measures included company-provided masks, physical barriers on production lines and a workspace reconfigured for distancing. It said it has a thorough contact-tracing system and is committed to best practices to reduce risks.

In some instances, when OSHA learned of worker deaths that employers hadn't reported, it asked the employers to investigate and then accepted their conclusions without doing a fatality investigation, which typically entails interviewing family and co-workers and inspecting work sites.

At a Walmart Inc. store in Aurora, Colo., cashier Sandra Kunz, 72, and security guard Lupe Aguilar, 69, died within days of each other in April, deaths that Walmart didn't report to OSHA.

Local news publicized their deaths. OSHA sent Walmart a letter referencing a death and requested a response but didn't open fatality investigations.

In a more than 300-page reply, Walmart told OSHA about its procedures to provide a safe work environment and provided information about Ms. Kunz, a company spokesman said. He said Walmart concluded there was no evidence Ms. Kunz had contracted the virus at work, a company spokesman said.

Family members said Ms. Kunz worried that Walmart hadn't provided masks or guidance on how to handle coughing customers. They said she hadn't been informed about any co-workers falling ill. Eighteen employees became infected as part of the outbreak, Colorado's health department said.

Based on Walmart's response, OSHA closed the case with no citation of the employer.

As for Mr. Aguilar, Walmart said it didn't report his death because he wasn't an employee but a contract worker. The company pointed OSHA to his direct employer, Brosnan Risk Consultants, which said in a statement it believed neither company was obligated to report his death at that time.

An OSHA representative said companies are supposed to report any work-related death of a person they supervise even if the person isn't one of their employees.

Gia Aguilar, Mr. Aguilar's wife, said she believes he caught the virus on the job because he wasn't venturing out beyond work.

Ms. Kunz died April 20. Walmart said it began providing masks to employees and mandating their use that day and quickly took other safety steps, such as social-distancing measures.

At least 619 Walmart staffers in Colorado have contracted Covid-19, in 38 workplace outbreaks, according to the state health department.

Walmart declined to comment specifically on its Colorado worker infections, but it said that "the health of our associates tends to track the health of the country as a whole."

--Graphics by Joel Eastwood--Alejandro Lazo, Nora Eckert and Lisa Schwartz contributed to this article.


The people pictured at the top of this article are a handful of the workers who have died of Covid-19. All either died following complaints to OSHA about their workplaces or their deaths went uninvestigated when employers didn't report them to OSHA agencies -- because, according to most of the employers, they didn't think the deaths were work-related. In lawsuits and interviews, loved ones of some of the deceased said they believed their family members caught the coronavirus at work.

Lupe Aguilar, 69, was working as a security guard at a Walmart in Aurora, Colo., when he contracted the virus. He was an avid photographer who died on April 17 after struggling on a ventilator. "I know in my heart that he heard me tell him how much I loved him one last time," said his wife, Gia Aguilar. PHOTO: GIA AGUILAR

Jose Andrade-Garcia, with daughter Maria Andrade, was a 61-year-old worker at a JBS meat-processing plant in Marshalltown, Iowa, who died May 15. "He was the type of person who would pretty much do everything for his kids," his daughter said. PHOTO: ANDRADE FAMILY

Enock Benjamin, 70, a meat plant worker for JBS in Souderton, Pa., died on April 3. Mr. Benjamin was a union steward whom colleagues called a "champion of the people," according to a lawsuit later filed by his family.

Barbara Birchenough, 65, a nurse at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, N.J., was hospitalized about a week before she planned to retire, said daughter Kristin Birchenough Carbone. Ms. Birchenough died on April 15. PHOTO: KRISTIN BIRCHENOUGH CARBONE

Javier Escobedo, 40, worked at soap packager Visual Pak in Waukegan, Ill. He died on May 3. "He was always funny, always trying to make everyone smile," sister Yadira Escobedo said. PHOTO: ESCOBEDO FAMILY

Robert Fentress, 44, a marine electrician for General Dynamics at a shipyard in Norfolk, Va., died on April 9. "He was the rock of the family," sister Toshiba Fentress said. PHOTO: JAY ASKEW

Glenmar Gabriel, 37, with girlfriend Evelyn Guevarra, was a ramp worker for American Airlines' Envoy carrier in Fort Worth, Texas. He died on April 5. PHOTO: EVELYN GUEVARRA

Pwar Gay, 46, worked as a meat cutter at a Tyson Foods meat-packing plant in Amarillo, Texas. She died on May 8. PHOTO: GAY FAMILY

Gerardo Gutierrez, 70, was a deli worker at a Publix store in Miami Beach who died on April 28. PHOTO: GUTIERREZ FAMILY

Sandra Kunz, 72, died of Covid on April 20, two days after her husband, Gus Kunz. Her family had pressed her to retire from her job as a Walmart cashier in Aurora, Colo., when the pandemic broke out, but she didn't want to. "I think that was a source of pride for her, to be able to work at Walmart," said Jennifer Cochran, her niece. PHOTO: JENNIFER COCHRAN

Regina Lim Lee, left, with her sister and mother, who also died of Covid-19, was a 58-year-old cruise agent at Costco in Issaquah, Wash., who died on March 16. PHOTO: LEE FAMILY

Kipp Lyons, left, was a 59-year-old activities coordinator at Ohio Living Rockynol nursing home in Akron who died on April 22. "She was dedicated to helping Alzheimer's and dementia patients get a little bit of themselves back," said her husband, Patrick Lyons. PHOTO: LYONS FAMILY

James McKay, 75, was a grocery clerk at a King Soopers store in Denver who died on May 23. PHOTO: MCKAY FAMILY

William Moore, with fiancée Trizetta Pone, worked at a Butterball poultry plant in Mount Olive, N.C., and died May 26 at age 29. He played drums at church every Sunday and loved to sing and fish, family members said. "Everybody loved him," said Ms. Pone. PHOTO: TRIZETTA PONE

Randy Narvaez, seen with sister Nicole Trujillo, was a 51-year-old worker at the King Soopers grocery chain in Denver. He died on May 17. PHOTO: NARVAEZ FAMILY

Clara Newkirk, a 70-year-old truck-control agent at FedEx in Newark, died on April 22. She had worked there for 25 years and colleagues knew her as Mama Clara, "a mother to all those around her," said daughter Stephanie Newkirk. PHOTO: STEPHANIE NEWKIRK

Catherine Pace, 65, a paint-shop worker at Fiat Chrysler in Warren, Mich., died on March 27. "She was this bright, bubbly being, a little bitty woman [who] baked a sour cream pound cake everyone just raved over, " said daughter Tonya Pace. PHOTO: MICHAEL MILLS PHOTOGRAPHY

Janine Paiste-Ponder, 59, a nurse at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, Calif., died on July 17. "My mom would be that go-to person," taking extra shifts when others called out sick, said daughter Dominique Paiste-Ponder. PHOTO: PAISTE-PONDER FAMILY

Gonzalo Peralta, 55, seen with his son, Roberto, and daughter Lyrissa, worked at Tyson Foods in Emporia, Kan. He played in the local soccer league and stepped up to fill in for colleagues as they fell sick with Covid-19, said his wife, Chrysanne Peralta. He died on June 20, his son's birthday. PHOTO: PERALTA FAMILY

Howard Rogers was a 55-year-old maintenance worker for CTtransit, a service of the Connecticut Department of Transportation. He died on May 14. "Howard was my everything," said his wife, Denise Rogers. "What is a person supposed to do when the love of your life for over 20 years isn't here anymore?" PHOTO: DENISE ROGERS

Alfred Salvatore, 47, with his daughters and his wife, Natalie Salvatore, was a service technician for Verizon in Feltonville, Pa., who died on April 24. Ms. Salvatore said he had helped service a nursing home's cable connection before he fell ill. PHOTO: SALVATORE FAMILY

Shawna Snyder, 40, a nurse at Banner Health's hospital in Tucson, Ariz., was a Navy veteran who was proud of her Navajo heritage. She died July 3 after weeks on a ventilator, leaving behind four children, the youngest ages 2 and 3. PHOTO: FAMILY OF SHAWNA SNYDER

Alan Twofoot, 51, a payroll technician at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Bedford, Mass., died on May 12. PHOTO: TIFFANY TWOFOOT

Elizabeth Wiles, left, with son Angelo, was a 69-year-old housekeeper at Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver, Pa., who died on May 10. PHOTO: WILES FAMILY

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03-04-21 1140ET

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