A Washington State farm previously fined for COVID-19 violations that led to the deaths of two workers has reached a settlement with the state requiring it to invest more than $2 million in safety, health and housing improvements.
Gebbers Farms was fined $2,038,200 and $13,200 following two inspections by the state’s Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) in 2020 that found 24 egregious willful violations related to COVID-19 exposure.
Two farmworkers died from COVID-19 while living and working on the farm, and the investigations found a lack of adequate social distancing in living quarters and no barriers in place in the kitchens, according to an L&I news release.
Under the settlement, Gebbers must make $1.4 million in improvements to temporary worker housing, including:
- demolishing and rebuilding an older temporary worker housing camp
- building a cell tower so workers have reliable communications with their family members
- upgrading electrical facilities to support washing machines and dryers for workers
- purchasing new mattresses for temporary worker housing
- installing air conditioning units and making power upgrades
- installing signs at housing sites so emergency responders can locate them, and
- building and maintaining recreation areas, including a soccer field, picnic tables and benches.
Gebbers must also donate $513,000 to area medical facilities to improve access to health care for its workers and their families.
Another $150,000 must be invested in the hiring of a full-time safety officer for three years who will:
- oversee worker safety and health, including training and supervising current staff who develop and enforce the farm’s safety program, and
- have the authority to stop any activity deemed unsafe or in violation of safety and health rules.
The farm must also post a copy of the settlement for employees to view for 10 days. Once the 10 days are up, the agreement will take effect.
The fines against Gebbers will be reduced to $10,000 in exchange for the farm making these investments.