A worker’s complaint about conditions at Firestone Pacific Foods, the source of a recent coronavirus outbreak, is leading to a formal inspection by Washington Labor and Industries.
Agency officials confirmed they alerted the Vancouver fruit packing plant on Thursday that they would investigate safety violations alleged in the complaint.
The plant is the source of 119 confirmed cases of COVID-19. That includes 74 employees and 45 close contacts, according to the latest figures from Clark County Public Health.
The worker, whose identity was not disclosed in documents obtained by OPB, alleges safety violations that have not been previously reported.
The worker says requirements to wear masks were not enforced. They say often between 25 and 30 employees sat “shoulder-to-shoulder” during breaks and lunch. Employees used the same microwaves to heat food, put open containers in a shared refrigerator, and shared drinking fountains, according to the documents.
“This plant did NOT DO THEIR PART and up until now I did not know who to file a complaint with or it would have been done much sooner,” the complaint said. “Firestone needs to pay every single person who lost work for this.”
Violations can lead to a fine worth several thousand dollars or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, said agency spokesman Tim Church.
“Everyone who works should have some level of confidence that they’re going to go to work, do their job and come home as safe and healthy as they were when they left their house that day,” Church said.
CEO Josh Hinerfeld told OPB Thursday night an inspection occurred that morning. He said he told staff inspectors will reach out to them as part of the investigation.
"I encouraged the team to speak openly and honestly and underscored that the feedback would be handled with discretion by (labor and industries)," Hinerfeld said. "I welcome the scrutiny in the spirit of receiving constructive feedback to promote the safety of our team."
Previously, Clark County Public Health reported that some of the “concerns” at the plant included people not maintaining physical distancing in the production line, and sharing paperwork.
Firestone acknowledged safety risks at its plant, located in the Fruit Valley neighborhood of Vancouver.
“We could have done better,” Hinerfeld told reporters Wednesday. “We learned we didn’t do enough. I hope from this experience that others will learn from it.”
The first employee at the facility tested positive May 16, a Saturday, according to county public health officials. After a handful more tested positive within the next two days, Clark County public health officials say they ordered affected parts of the facility to shut down.
This story has been updated with a comment from Firestone Pacific Foods regarding the inspection.