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Virginia launches workplace safety investigations into seven employee deaths from COVID-19

Virginia National Guardsmen receive COVID_19 training in order to test patients at long-term...
Virginia National Guardsmen receive COVID_19 training in order to test patients at long-term care facilities across the state(NBC12)
Published: Jun. 2, 2020 at 8:16 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 2, 2020 at 8:17 AM EDT
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Virginia occupational safety inspectors have opened investigations into seven employee deaths related to COVID-19 and four hospitalizations, according to the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry.

The department said more investigations are forthcoming following reports of three additional COVID-19 related employee deaths.

The cases represent the state’s first formal inspections of workplaces in response to COVID-19 safety concerns, which have prompted thousands of employee complaints since March alleging inadequate sanitation, protective equipment and social distancing.

Until last month, the state had resolved the complaints it deemed valid – 427 as of Friday – exclusively through informal “phone/fax investigations,” in which inspectors forwarded employee complaints to employers and asked them to provide documentation showing they’d addressed the unsafe conditions.

In addition to the inspections launched in response to deaths and hospitalizations, the department has also initiated formal inspections in response to three employee complaints alleging unsafe working conditions related to COVID-19, said Jay Withrow, a lawyer with the Department of Labor and Industry. He said they were opened either based on the nature of the initial complaint or because the employers’ response to the informal investigation was deemed inadequate.

He said the name of the employers and contents of the complaints are confidential under state law until the investigation is complete.

In the case of the workplace death inspections, he said officials first attempt to determine whether “it is more likely that the employee contracted the disease away from work.”

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