SALT LAKE CITY — At WingNutz in Spanish Fork, chicken wings fly on and off the plates; beer flows from the taps.
Last month, someone who wasn’t a customer walked in the door. It was an inspector from the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division, known as UOSH.
“We got cited for servers not wearing their masks,” said Becky Crawford, one of the restaurant’s owners.
Crawford said employees were not near customers at the time. WingNutz was fined $1,500 – enough to buy 200 pounds of wings.
“It’s hard to tell an employee their individual rights don’t matter,” Crawford said.
UOSH had cited 24 other businesses for pandemic violations as of late January. All but one is accused of violating the mask mandate then-Governor Gary Herbert issued in November. That mandate remains in effect.
Herbert tasked UOSH inspectors with enforcing the mask mandate in businesses.
“We got almost a year’s worth of complaints in just a couple of months,” said Eric Olsen, a spokesman for the Utah Labor Commission, which oversees UOSH.
The list of cited businesses runs up and down Utah. In West Valley City, Ken Garff Ford was fined $4,500.
A spokeswoman for the dealership issued a statement saying five technicians in a maintenance area who were not masked have been reprimanded and given additional training.
“We care deeply about customer and employee safety,” the statement added, “and are working to do everything possible to protect everyone in our dealership.”
The statement added: “Along with following state health guidelines, we have gone above and beyond in sanitizing our stores daily and keeping any employee who feels virus symptoms home to recover.”
The NAPA Auto Parts store in Moab was fined $750 for an unmasked employee.
“If you don’t want to come into my store, if you don’t feel safe, just walk out,” said owner Cindy Daye. “It’s that easy.”
Manufactures have been cited, too, like freeze-dried food makers Harvest Right in North Salt Lake. It was fined $1,50 for two employees not wearing masks. The company did not respond to requests for comment.
Inspectors cited Intermountain Cedar City Hospital. A hospital spokesman said one employee did not feel adequately trained to use a respirator while caring for a COVID-19 patient. The hospital worked with UOSH to provide additional training and was not fined.
By law, occupational safety violations start at fines of about $5,000, Olsen explained. Factors in the case, including the size of the business, the severity of the violation and whether the business worked to abate the issue, can increase or lessen that amount.
Olsen confirmed at least four businesses have refused to allow UOSH inspectors inside. The inspectors went to a judge and obtained a warrant to enter.
“Most businesses are doing what needs to be done,” Olsen said, “and most of the ones we talk about that maybe we’ve had to give a citation to have been really good about remedying that situation.”
Crawford feels her restaurant is being punished for the choices the workers made. The penalties, she said, goes against the “we’re in this together” motto that has been heard throughout the pandemic.
“I didn’t feel like I was in anything together,” she said.