GRTC being investigated by state agency regarding COVID-19 precautions, 2nd employee death


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — GRTC’s chief executive revealed that the transit system is under multiple investigations following the death of a second employee due to COVID-19 and claims that it has not properly implemented safety precautions to protect workers.

Virginia’s Department of Labor and Industry requested several documents from GRTC on Jan. 12, the day after the transit system reported the second employee death, as part of an inspection by the agency’s Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) Program.

“Because of the death and because of our transparency and our openness about trying to make sure everyone understands exactly where our position is with COVID, we are now under our second investigation with DOLI, the department of labor and industry, over the death of the employee,” GRTC CEO Julie Timm disclosed during a board of directors meeting Tuesday.

DOLI requested the following documents by Jan. 14:

  • Copy of GRTC’s Written Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan.
  • Copy of Exposure Assessment Performed for COVID-19 in accordance with 16VAC25-220.
  • Copy of all contact tracing performed by GRTC in regards to positive COVID-19 cases.
  • Confirmation on the date of death for the deceased employee.
  • Confirmation on the hospital(s) in which the deceased employee was hospitalized prior to their death (to include dates).
  • Copy of the work schedule for the deceased employee, to include up to14 days prior to their last day of work 12/10/2020.
  • Contact information for employees/direct supervisors that worked directly with the deceased employee 14 days prior to their last day of work 12/10/2020, to conduct interviews.
  • Copy of OSHA 300 and 300a injury/illness Logs and Summaries for 2020, 2019, and 2018.

Timm added that GRTC’s review of the death found no connection to the employee’s workplace environment.

“We’ll, of course, need to wait for the investigation to complete. Our internal assessment did not find any relation to the work environment that caused this death,” she continued. “It doesn’t change the tragedy that surrounds it or the impact on us but we will of course comply with that investigation and continue with ongoing transparency.”

VOSH notified Timm of alleged safety and health hazards in a letter dated Jan. 15, including claims it received from an employee that GRTC has not sufficiently enforced mask mandates and social distancing among employees in its office on E. Belt Boulevard.

“We have not determined whether the alleged hazards exist at your workplace, and we do not intend to conduct an inspection at this time,” VOSH Regional Health Director Deonna Hargrove wrote to Timm. “However, since allegations of workplace hazards have been made, we request that you immediately investigate the alleged conditions and make any necessary correction or modifications.”

Hargrove informs Timm that the letter is not a citation but that GRTC must provide results of its investigation no later than Jan. 25 or “a VOSH inspection will likely be conducted.”

“We will of course respond to that information, that request for information by DOLI with the information that we are enforcing the rules,” Timm told board members. “That we have included actions, including suspensions of employees, terminations of employees, written warnings to employees and vocal warnings to employees. As well as significant signage throughout our facility.”

She added that GRTC has shared messages on social media about the importance of mask wearing, that barriers have been placed in the office and that management has conducted walkthroughs.  

Jennifer L. Rose, the director of VOSH’s cooperative programs, confirmed the two investigations into GRTC but did not share any additional details. The department of labor and industry has received a total of 1,608 workplace complaints related to the coronavirus, according to Rose.

Tracey Thrower is the widow of John Thrower Jr., the first GRTC employee to die from COVID-19.

“I’m glad someone is trying to do something about it,” said Thrower.

According to Thrower, before her husband passed, he complained of buses being overcrowded with passengers not wearing masks. Thrower told 8news, he was scared to go to work.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, GRTC has reported 57 total cases — 52 employees and 5 contractors — have contracted the virus. In response to COVID-19, the transit system has required passengers and workers to wear masks and put in barriers for drivers.

“What we understand from the Department of Health is that what were seeing with case counts at GRTC is no different than what’s hitting other employers in our region. The difference is that GRTC is extremely transparent,” said Carrie Rose Pace, a GRTC spokesperson.

Click here for the latest GRTC COVID-19 updates.

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