By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
Four businesses in New Hampshire are facing federal workplace investigations because of employee death or hospitalization due to COVID-19, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Three of the businesses involve a fatality investigation, including Walmart on Loudon Road in Concord, which denies its associate died from COVID-19; Fwm Inc., a manufacturing plant employing 49 people in Hudson; and Hackett Hill Nursing Home in Manchester.
The American Medical Response ambulance service in Nashua’s investigation involves a COVID-19 hospitalization, not a fatality, according to OSHA.
The Hackett Hill investigation was opened May 25 and is the only OSHA investigation in New Hampshire that was previously made public when it was reported by New Hampshire Public Radio.
A request to interview Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette was denied.
Instead, the department’s spokesman Jake Leon sent an email when asked for more information about the four businesses and any others that may have COVID-19 related outbreaks, worker hospitalizations or deaths.
Usually, the state only releases the names of long-term care facilities that have had outbreaks with the number of staff and patient infections and number of COVID-19 deaths.
“We make public notifications when the public’s health is at risk,” Leon said.
At Thursday’s news conference, Shibinette refused to identify businesses or say how many have experienced outbreaks or COVID-19 deaths.
Shibinette said at the press conference that it is between OSHA and the businesses.
Randy Hargrove emailed a statement from Walmart saying the associate’s death was not from COVID-19, but after the letter was shared with OSHA on Thursday, OSHA insisted the investigation is ongoing.
Hargrove’s email said, “a letter was shared with the Concord Area Office of OSHA July 14 stating our associate tested negative twice for COVID-19, but an incorrect report was provided to the New Hampshire Worker’s Compensation Commission. The associate’s cause of death has not been released.”
An OSHA spokesman said Thursday after InDepthNH.org asked about Walmart’s statement: “OSHA has an open fatality inspection with Walmart Associates Inc. in Concord, NH. Additional information will not be available until the investigation is completed.”
OSHA has up to six months to complete an investigation.
Chris Stawasz, regional director of American Medial Response, said via email: “We are unable to comment about an ongoing inspection. We can confirm that we are fully cooperating.”
Michael Barry, president of Fwm Inc. in Hudson, said he wouldn’t make a comment during the investigation.
Hackett Hill spokesman Lori Mayer previously confirmed an employee’s COVID-19 death and said “any potential work-related death would need to be reported to OSHA, as we did.”
DHHS spokesman Jake Leon’s email went on to discuss the importance of wearing a mask or staying home and then spoke about New Hampshire’s “robust” contact tracing, but nothing specific to the four businesses.
“When all potential close contacts cannot be identified, we will and have notified the public about a potential risk associated with a specific location, organization or place of business, in order to protect the health of the public at large.
“We cannot disclose personal information about individuals who have passed, such as where they work, because of privacy concerns. Employers, not DHHS, are required to report to OSHA a workplace-related death, including an employee who passed away because they contracted COVID-19 in the workplace, as opposed to contracting the virus elsewhere,” Leon wrote.
InDepthNH.org has filed a right-to-know request under RSA 91a to the Department of Health and Human Services for the names of all businesses that have experienced outbreaks, employee hospitalizations or deaths due to COVID-19.
There have been 52 healthcare workers who have been hospitalized and seven deaths due to COVID-19 in New Hampshire, according to the state’s website.
So, it is unknown whether the employers of all seven deceased healthcare workers have notified OSHA.
An OSHA spokesman said: “OSHA is working to reconcile state and OSHA data.”
All OSHA investigations in New Hampshire can be found at this link: https://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/establishment.search?establishment=&state=all&officetype=all&office=111700&sitezip=100000&startmonth=07&startday=21&startyear=2015&endmonth=07&endday=21&endyear=2020&p_case=all&p_violations_exist=both&p_start=&p_finish=0&p_sort=12&p_desc=DESC&p_direction=Next&p_show=20