Mich. prison fined for COVID-19 violations after CO's death

MIOSHA assessed a $6,300 fine against Gus Harrison Correctional Facility for violations deemed "serious"

By Paul Egan
Detroit Free Press

LANSING, Mich. — A state agency has fined a state prison $6,300 for poor COVID-19 safety violations that were discovered during an investigation of a correction officer's death, the agency said Friday.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration assessed the fine against Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian for violations the agency deemed "serious."

It is believed to be the first MIOSHA fine assessed against a state agency in connection with the pandemic.

According to the citation, a corrections officer at the prison tested positive on April 17 and reported the finding to prison officials on April 20, but that officer was never interviewed to identify close contacts. By May 6, four other officers had tested positive and they were all officers the first officer ate lunch with on a daily basis, according to the citation.

"Since they were not identified as close contacts, they were not required to self-quarantine at home for 14 days, thus potentially exposing (other) employees," the citation said.

The citation did not identify what death the agency was investigating when it discovered the alleged violations. But the Michigan Department of Corrections Honor Guard reported in early July the death of Randy Rumler, a corrections officer who was a 24-year veteran at Gus Harrison and contracted COVID-19.

MIOSHA only deals with employer-employee issues, but there was also a sharp increase in prisoner infections at Gus Harrison.

The department "disagrees with the MIOSHA citation announced today" and plans to appeal it, correction's department spokesman Chris Gautz said.

According to the news release, the prison failed to:

  • Develop an adequate infectious disease preparedness and response plan.
  • Identify all close contacts for employees who received a positive coronavirus test.
  • Apply social distancing strategies for employees who ate lunch together.
  • Make sure all employees wore face masks and practiced social distancing.
  • Clean and disinfect the prison after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

According to the citation, during an April review of prison video recordings, officials at Gus Harrison discovered that employees were not wearing face coverings and not practicing social distancing, but did not take adequate measures to correct the problem.

Gautz said the department has requested more specific information from MIOSHA about the alleged violations but received no response.

"Until the department is provided with the specific details, it cannot properly and fully respond. The department intends to exhaust all appellate options available in order to defend against these unfounded claims," he said.

"Throughout the pandemic the MDOC and its facilities have been proactive, created detailed response plans, followed department policy and met or exceeded state and federal guidelines. MIOSHA has inspected several MDOC facilities over the past year regarding MDOC’s response to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and has never had any issues like the allegations announced today."


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