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SALT LAKE CITY — With a statewide mask mandate still in place, the KSL Investigators wanted to know: How are Utah businesses doing at making sure employees wear masks?
The mandate went into effect in November with Gov. Gary Herbert's emergency declaration. With it came an emergency rule to be enforced by the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division that requires every employee to mask up, with few exceptions.
Failure to follow the rule can result in a fine.
KSL Investigators found so far — most businesses are complying with the rule.
There have been complaints of non-compliance to UOSH. According to data from the Utah Labor Commission, which oversees UOSH, 1,126 complaints were registered regarding COVID-19 issues since March 2020. Of those, 957 complaints were received between November and January.
"We got a year's worth of complaints in a month," said Eric Olsen, public information officer for the Utah Labor Commission. He said working through the caseload has kept their 19 investigators busy.
"We are responding to 100% of complaints that we have jurisdiction over," he said.
How UOSH investigators respond varies.
Olsen told KSL a large part of complaints received are about customers, not employees, failing to wear masks inside businesses. UOSH has no jurisdiction over customers, only employees.
There are also multiple complaints against certain businesses, which they consolidate if complaints are made in the same short span of time.
Removing those exceptions, UOSH had 734 complaints that fall within their jurisdiction to investigate.
We got a year's worth of complaints in a month.
–Eric Olsen, Utah Labor Commission
Olsen said most of these were informal complaints, meaning someone other than the business's employees had made the complaint. They were still investigated and businesses were asked to show proof of compliance.
Most did show such proof, which Olsen said negates the need for an inspection by their office.
UOSH does visit businesses that do not respond. "Further investigations resulted when compliance wasn't demonstrated, the employer was non-responsive, or we received additional complaints," said Olsen.
Data shows that of the 107 inspections that have taken place for these types of violations, only 14.6% resulted in a citation or fine.
We found 25 businesses received a total of $49,250 in fines for not following the mask rule, with an average fine of $1,970 per business. The highest fines were levied at $4,500. All citations with fines mention lack of mask use.
As KSL Investigators previously reported, four businesses had initially refused entry of UOSH inspectors into their business unless they obtained an administrative warrant. We asked Olsen if these had been executed. He stated by email "we do not comment on ongoing investigations" and could not address "specific questions about the status of warrants."
For the most part, Olsen said businesses are working hard to keep employees safe. The emergency rule is in place until March 9. Until then, Olsen told KSL they will continue investigating rule-breakers as they hear about them.
"That's a rule that we're supposed to enforce, so we enforce that just like any other rule," he said.
The businesses that seem to be racking up the most fines include construction companies and car dealerships.