Coronavirus and OSHA: important updates

Backtracks on recordability of COVID- 19

Interim guidance reversed previous guidance that COVID-19 transmission in the workplace would be considered a recordable injury. Under the new guidance, the recordability of COVID-19 for non-frontline employers will be enforced only if there is objective evidence that the case may be work-related without an alternative explanation and the evidence was reasonably evident to the employer.

Employers in areas where there is ongoing community transmission “other than those in the health care industry, emergency response organizations (e.g., emergency medical, firefighting and law enforcement services) and correctional institutions” generally will not be required to record COVID-19 cases because they “may have difficulty making determinations about whether workers who contracted COVID-19 did so due to exposures at work.”

The non-exempt employers must continue to make work-relatedness determinations and record on their 300 logs positive cases of COVID-19 likely to have been acquired on the job that result in death, days away from work, restricted work, or medical treatment beyond first aid.

 

Enforcement relief of many regulatory obligations for employers demonstrating “good faith efforts”

In an April 16 memo area offices and inspectors were given the discretion to assess an employer’s good-faith efforts to comply with standards that require annual or recurring audits, reviews, training or assessments, and take such efforts “into strong consideration” before issuing a citation during the current pandemic. Inspectors are directed to evaluate if employers:

  • Explored all options to comply with applicable standards (e.g., use of virtual training or remote communication strategies)
  • Implemented interim alternative protections, such as engineering or administrative controls
  • Rescheduled required annual activity as quickly as possible

The memo lists examples of situations in which area offices should consider enforcement discretion, including annual audiograms, hazardous waste operations training, construction crane operator certification, and periodic evaluation for respirator use.

 

Guidance for manufacturing sector

Guidance for the manufacturing sector offering strategies to prevent the spread of coronavirus was recently released. The guidance recommends that manufacturing companies stagger shifts, maintain distances of six feet between employees if possible, allow workers to wear masks, and provide training on the proper donning and doffing of personal protective equipment and clothing. Manufacturers are also urged to promote personal hygiene and provide alcohol-based hand rubs of at least 60% alcohol if handwashing access is not available and provide disinfectants and disposable towels for employees to clean work surfaces. The guidance is available in English and Spanish.

 

New safety alerts: retail sector, construction, package delivery workers

new safety alert provides nine tips for employers and workers at pharmacies, supermarkets, big-box stores, and other retail establishments to help reduce the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. The guidance is also available in Spanish.

A new safety alert provides guidance to help protect construction workers from exposure to coronavirus. It is available in English and Spanish.

Tips to protect package delivery workers are addressed in a new safety alert. English Spanish

 

Guidance for meatpacking and processing industries

coronavirus-related interim guidance developed with the CDC for meatpacking and meat processing workers and employers, including those involved in beef, pork and poultry operations, has been released. The interim guidance includes information on cleaning of shared meatpacking and processing tools, screening employees for the coronavirus before they enter work facilities, managing workers who are showing symptoms of the coronavirus, implementing appropriate engineering, administrative, and work practice controls, using appropriate personal protective equipment and practicing social distancing at the workplace.

 

Worker exposure risk chart

To help determine workers’ risk level for exposure to COVID-19, a chart of a four-tiered hierarchy based on occupational risk was developed. It shows what measures to take to protect workers based on industry and contact with others. The levels are:

Very high: Health care and morgue workers performing aerosol-generating procedures on or collecting/handling specimens from potentially infectious patients or bodies of individuals known to have, or suspected of having, COVID-19 at the time of death.

High: Health care delivery and support, medical transport, and mortuary workers exposed to confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients or bodies of individuals known to have, or suspected of having, COVID-19 at the time of death.

Medium: Individuals who may have contact with the general public, including anyone employed in schools, high-population/density work environments, and some high-volume retail settings. This category also includes workers returning from locations with widespread COVID-19 transmission.

Lower (caution): Individuals who have minimal occupational contact with the public and other co-workers.

 

Inspectors prioritizing health facilities over other sites during coronavirus crisis

Recent guidance directs inspectors to focus on inspecting hospitals, nursing homes, laboratories, and other “high-risk” settings that are the subject of complaints by workers. Fatalities and imminent-danger exposures related to the pandemic will take priority for onsite inspections. So many employee complaints have been made that letters requiring a response are no longer sent, but employers are sent a letter notifying them about a complaint and directing them to agency guidance and additional resources on how to address COVID-19 risk. On the other hand, Cal/OSHA and other state plans are sending out traditional letters requesting a response within five working days.

 

Employers reminded of whistleblower protections for COVID-19 complaints

The number of coronavirus-related whistleblower complaints prompted a press release reminding employers they cannot retaliate against workers who report unsafe working conditions. The press release lists forms of retaliation, including firings, demotions, denials of promotion or overtime, and reductions in pay or hours. Reports are that there have been thousands of COVID-19-related inquiries and complaints.

 

Further easing of regulations related to respiratory protection

On April 3, two interim enforcement guidance memos were issued regarding the Respiratory Protection Standard (1910.134) and certain other health standards. The reuse of N95 respirators and the use of expired N95s will be allowed if certain conditions are met.

The second memo allows for the use of filtering facepiece respirators and air-purifying elastomeric respirators certified by other countries or jurisdictions, under certain performance standards. The enforcement guidance applies to all industries, especially workplaces where respiratory protection is impacted by the shortage and health care personnel are exposed to suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients.

third memo was released on April 24 providing guidance on reusing disposable N95 filtering facepiece respirators (N95 FFRs) that have been decontaminated.

 

Poster aimed at reducing workplace exposure to the coronavirus

A new poster listing steps all workplaces can take to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus is available in twelve languages.

 

COVID-19 quick tips videos

Three new animated videos provide quick tips on social distancing, disinfecting workplaces, and industry risk factors to keep workers safe from COVID-19:

Social distancing

Disinfecting workplaces

Industry risk factors

For OSHA updates visit https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/ .

 

Cal/OSHA new guidance on COVID-19 in the workplace

Industry-specific guidance and ATD model plans have been released. The industry-specific guidance includes:

As general guidance, Cal/OSHA’s website also includes interim guidelines for general industry.

 

Guidance and resources from state OSHA programs

California

Indiana

Michigan

Minnesota

North Carolina

Tennessee

Virginia

For additional information and resources on Coronavirus, go to the Duncan Financial Group COVID-19 Resource Center Online

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

 

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