Legal Corner

ADA
Ability to delegate does not remove essential functions of job

In Tonyan v. Dunham’s Athleisure Corp., a store manager injured her shoulder and was fired when she could no longer perform some of the essential functions of her job, including lifting and reaching. She argued that such tasks only took up about 30% of the workday and could be delegated. However, the Seventh Circuit court disagreed, noting that the essential functions of the job were clearly and specifically defined in the job description and the ability to delegate was always available, but it does not mean it is appropriate to do so.

Failed case of fired worker suffering from Tourette’s syndrome reinstated

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston in Brian Bell v. O’Reilly Auto Enterprises LLC, d/b/a/ O’Reilly Auto Parts, reinstated litigation filed by a fired auto parts store manager who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, citing incorrect instructions given by the judge to the jury. The judge’s instructions in the case “required an employee to demonstrate that he could not perform the essential functions of his job without accommodation,” and may have favored the employer. The correct standard to prove a failure to accommodate claim is an employee must show that he is handicapped within the ADA’s meaning, he can perform the job’s essential functions with or without reasonable accommodation, and the employer knew of the disability but declined to reasonably accommodate it upon request.

Workers’ Compensation
Uber and Lyft get reprieve from appeals court – California

In early August, a lower court ordered Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. to treat their drivers as employees. The companies successfully sought the intervention of the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco to block the injunction order, giving them a reprieve at least for a few months. There is a ballot initiative in November that will let the app-based companies continue to treat drivers as independent contractors, thus making them exempt from state laws mandating overtime, sick leave, and expense reimbursement, but providing “alternative benefits.”

$11.25M workers’ comp settlement – California

A 35-year-old construction worker received what could be a record-breaking workers’ comp settlement of $11.25M. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and related complications when he fell four stories through an elevator shaft at a construction site in Irvine.

Workers’ Comp is the exclusive remedy for couple severely injured while assisting law enforcement officials – California

In Gund v. County of Trinity, a middle-aged couple was asked by the Sheriff’s office, which was nearly 100 miles away, to check on a woman who lived nearby in the remote area and had called 911. The reason for the call was unknown and it was suggested it could be related to an oncoming storm, although attempts to call back the woman failed.

When they arrived, they were attacked by a man who had killed the woman and her boyfriend and sustained serious injuries. In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court affirmed a trial court ruling that workers’ comp was their exclusive remedy since they were engaged in law enforcement activities at the time. California laws treat members of the public who engage in “active law enforcement service” at a peace officer’s request as eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

McDonald’s sues insurer for coverage while fighting employee class action suit over unsafe working practices during COVID-19 – Illinois

In McDonald’s Corp. v. Austin Mut. Ins. Co., McDonald’s Corp. is suing its insurer for coverage of its legal fees while defending an employee class-action suit, which seeks to force the company to adopt certain safety measures, including requiring face coverings and offering hand sanitizer, during the pandemic.

The Chicago-based fast food chain and two of its franchise owners filed the action against Austin Mutual Insurance Co. in federal court, seeking a judgment that the insurer has a contractual obligation to defend them in the worker safety litigation. According to the complaint, McDonald’s has already incurred more than $1.5 million in attorney’s fees, costs, and expenses and the franchise owners have incurred about $116,000.

Certified mail not required for policy cancellation – Massachusetts

In Espinal’s Case, Nos. 19-P-1483 and 19-P-1484, the Massachusetts Appeals Board overturned a ruling that an insurance carrier had not canceled an assigned risk policy because it was sent by first-class mail, not certified mail. Cruz Abatement & Contracting Services LLC workers’ comp coverage was canceled because of non-payment and it received an assigned risk workers’ compensation policy from ACE American Insurance Co. After issuance and cancellation for nonpayment of two policies by ACE, the company was again assigned to ACE for Feb. 26, 2016, until Feb. 26, 2017, and again did not pay the invoice.

ACE sent a notice of cancellation to the address on the application by first class mail and received a certificate of mailing receipt from the PO. Cruz was hired to be a subcontractor on a demolition job and two workers were injured. Massachusetts General Law Section 187C governs insurance cancellations and authorizes notice by first class mail without requiring proof of receipt of notice by the insured. Section 65B, which governs the cancellation of assigned risk policies, has an additional provision that the employers have an opportunity to file objections with the Department of Industrial Accidents within 10 days after receipt of notice of cancellation. A judge and the Industrial Accident Reviewing Board interpreted this to mean it must be sent by certified mail return receipt requested, but the Appeals Board overturned, noting the statute did not include this requirement.

Employer not solely liable for PTD benefits – Missouri

In Williams v. City of Jennings, a correctional officer was attacked by an inmate and was awarded permanent total disability (PTD) based on her depression and anxiety arising from the work injuries. At the hearing, she and medical experts acknowledged that she had a pre-existing condition of panic and anxiety attacks.

The Court of Appeals noted that the decision should have addressed the fact that the pre-existing psychological conditions were partly responsible for the way she responded to the work injury and, therefore, contributed to her permanent total disability. The Second Injury Fund compensates workers who are permanently and totally disabled by a combination of a work injury with a pre-existing disability and the employer should not have been held solely responsible for her benefits.

Appellate court refuses to hear controversial case on benefits to worker who died of natural causes – New York

An appellate court refused to hear an appeal in Kanye Green v. Dutchess County Board of Cooperative Education Services. The decision by the Workers’ Compensation Board was controversial because it not only reversed precedent about continuing benefits to the family of an injured worker who died of natural causes but also did not direct that benefits be paid when the decision was appealed. The worker died of a heart problem with less than a year remaining on his weekly benefits, which his son sought.

A previous court decision found that nonschedule loss of wage-earning capacity claims was not the same as schedule losses and wage-replacement benefits should not continue because a dead worker has no wage-earning capacity. It’s unknown if the employer will appeal.

Comp carrier can’t recover benefits from widow who sued – North Carolina

In Walker v. K&W Cafeterias, a worker suffered fatal injuries in a work-related auto accident and his widow was awarded medical and death benefits of over $333,000. The worker was employed by a North Carolina company and was driving a company car, but the accident occurred in South Carolina. Later, the widow filed a wrongful death case in South Carolina seeking damages from the driver of the motor vehicle who was at fault in the accident and was awarded $962,500 in a settlement.

The comp insurer filed a subrogation lien, which was approved by the Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Court of Appeals but overturned by the Supreme Court. The court found that while the commercial policy was purchased in North Carolina, it included an endorsement to conform with South Carolina insurance laws since the car was registered, garaged, and driven in South Carolina. South Carolina insurance law bars subrogation of UIM proceeds.

Non-OSHA compliant tractor seat insufficient for wrongful death suit – North Carolina

A court of appeals found that buying a non-OSHA compliant tractor seat without a seatbelt from eBay didn’t rise to the level of intentional misconduct and, therefore, the estate could not sue the company under tort law. In Hidalgo v. Erosion Control Services Inc., the worker was ejected from a tractor on a construction site and fatally injured when it rolled on top of him.

The estate alleged that the company was negligent – the seat on the tractor was replaced with one purchased on eBay that didn’t have a seatbelt because the manufacturer was unable to supply one. Furthermore, OSHA cited the company for four workplace safety violations related to the seatbelt and safety measures for the tractor. However, the company argued that the worker was operating the tractor outside of the designated project area where no work was going on.

While a trial court found for the estate, the appeals court found the seat created an unsafe condition but it did not make it substantially certain that death or serious injury would occur. In overturning the decision, the court noted there was no pattern of OSHA violations regarding tractor safety, there was no work going on in the area it occurred, and the seat had been used for more than a year without incident.

Court clarifies total disability benefits reinstatement post-Protz – Pennsylvania

In White vs. WCAB, the Commonwealth Court ruled that an injured worker is entitled to reinstatement of her total disability benefits retroactive to the date she filed her petition, not the date upon which her benefits were modified. Based on the Commonwealth Court’s decision in Protz v. WCAB, the injured worker filed a reinstatement petition seeking to nullify her IRE which had changed her condition from totally to partially disabled.

A WCJ approved the petition and the Appeal Board modified the ruling, noting the reinstatement was effective on the date she filed her reinstatement petition in October 2015, not the date of the change in her disability status. The Commonwealth Court agreed.

Truck driver was not statutory employee and can proceed with tort – Pennsylvania

In Dobransky v. EQT Production Co., a truck driver delivered a load of barite, which is a weighting agent to increase the density of industrial fluids, to a well site when a cap of a storage tank blew off and released barite into his face. He filed suit against EQT Production Co. and Halliburton Energy Services Inc. that owned or maintained the tanks. The companies sought summary judgment, citing workers comp’s exclusive remedy.

A trial judge agreed, but the Superior Court vacated the decision, noting a contractor can be deemed the statutory employer of a subcontractor’s employee only if the requirements of Section 302(a)(2) of the Workers’ Compensation Act are met. The contracted work must include removal, excavation, or drilling for minerals. In this case, the contract was to transport and unload materials.

Comp denied for Pittsburgh prosecutors who contracted COVID-19 – Pennsylvania

Two prosecutors who believe they contracted COVID-19 at the Allegheny County Courthouse where a court reporter tested positive, have had their claims denied. Both prosecutors spent time in the hospital and one died. The deceased prosecutor believed he contracted the virus from his colleague with whom he shared a small office and had filed a complaint with OSHA over how the notification of cases at the courthouse was being managed. The claims were denied because they were not a work-related injury. An appeal is expected.

Meaningful return to work must exist for cap on PPD Benefits – Tennessee

In Coates v. Tyson Foods, a supervisor who also performed physical work developed tennis elbow in both elbows and needed surgery. Following surgery, he took FMLA leave, which was extended, but he was unable to return to work when it ended. The company filled his position and told him when he could return without restrictions he’d have to start at the bottom again.

He left and found work as a farmhand and filed for comp benefits, and then sued. A trial court determined that because the supervisor didn’t have a meaningful return to work, he was owed temporary total disability and PPD benefits and his benefits were not subject to a statutory 1.5 multiplier cap. The Supreme Court agreed noting that the company didn’t make a reasonable effort to return the supervisor to his job.

Disagreement with IME physician’s opinion not sufficient to rebut presumption of correctness – Tennessee

In Rodgers v. Rent-A-Center East, Inc., an employee was injured when he was rear-ended in an automobile accident while running errands for the store manager. After he received treatment for back pain, two doctors referred by the employer concurred that he had a 0% permanent impairment rating. He presented conflicting reports from his physicians who assigned a 7% impairment rating and the employer requested an independent medical evaluation from the Medical Impairment Registry.The IME physician assigned a 2% impairment rating.

A bench trial judge agreed with his personal physicians and assigned a permanent impairment of 7% with a multiplier of 3 because there was no meaningful return to work. However, the Supreme Court noted under state law, a MIR physician’s rating is presumed to be accurate and the employee did not meet high burden of proof to rebut the presumption of correctness.

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

OSHA watch

COVID-19

Federal

For more COVID-19 information

Cal/OSHA

  • Temporary changes to guidance that health care workers be provided certified respirators in light of N95 mask shortages. Employees are permitted to use reusable respirators certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health instead of disposable filtering facepiece respirators and to wear their own respirator if it complies with Cal/OSHA requirements.

Michigan OSHA

  • The Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity has launched a state emphasis program aimed at ensuring health care employers are providing workers who care for COVID-19 patients with the personal protective equipment they need.

Oregon OSHA

  • The Department of Consumer and Business Services is proposing a temporary rule that would combat the spread of coronavirus in all workplaces by requiring employers to implement risk-reducing measures.

OIG report on whistleblower complaints

In response to the rising number of whistleblower cases since the pandemic outbreak, the U.S. Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit and found that there are too few investigators to handle the volume of complaints, creating long delays. OIG found that in the first quarter of the year, it took an average of 279 days for OSHA to close an investigation, which is nearly double the amount of time the agency took to close cases in 2010. The report recommended that OSHA develop a caseload management plan to evenly distribute whistleblower complaints among investigators, hire whistleblower investigators to fill the current vacancies, and consider extending its current pilot program on expediting whistleblower screenings to all regions.

Final beryllium standard for construction and shipyards published

The final rule amends the following paragraphs in the beryllium standards for construction and shipyards: Definitions, Methods of Compliance, Respiratory Protection, Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment, Housekeeping, Hazard Communication, Medical Surveillance, and Recordkeeping. The Hygiene Areas and Practices paragraph from the final standards was removed because existing standards for sanitation provide the necessary protection. The effective date of the revisions is September 30.

Reminder: resources available on disaster response

Hurricanes

Tornedos

Floods

Cal-OSHA reminds employers to protect workers from wildfire smoke

Employers near wildfires need to comply with the emergency wildfire smoke regulation, which took effect in July 2019 and has been extended to early 2021.

Recent fines and awards

California

  • Investigated because of an accident, Monterey Mushrooms, Inc. of Royal Oaks initially faces $69,635 in penalties.
  • Food manufacturer Overhill Farms Inc. and its temporary employment agency Jobsource North America Inc. were fined more than $400,000 in combined penalties for failing to take steps to protect workers from coronavirus infection at two frozen food plants in Vernon.

    Eleven other employers have also been cited for not protecting employees from COVID-19 exposure during inspections of industries where workers have an elevated risk of exposure. Proposed penalties range from $2,025 to $51,190.

Florida

  • U.S. Corrections LLC, headquartered in Melbourne, was ordered to reinstate an employee for reporting personal and commercial motor vehicle safety concerns plus pay more than $70,000 in back wages, $30,000 in punitive damages, $7,341 in compensatory damages, $30,000 in emotional distress damages and reasonable attorney’s fees under the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.
  • T S & C Construction Services Of Florida, LLC, based in Orlando, faces $75,567 in fines for failure to protect employees from cave-ins in excavations.
  • Roofing Pioneers of Parrish faces $47,229 in penalties for a repeat violation of failure to provide fall protection.

Georgia

  • Harris Tire Company of Atlanta faces $51,274 in penalties following an inspection initiated by a complaint.

Illinois

  • DS Containers, Inc. of West Chicago faces $42,411 in penalties relating to hazardous energy control.
  • Chicago Aerosol, LLC of Coal City faces $67,470 in penalties for process safety management.
  • Environmental Remediation And Recovery, Inc. of Mounds faces $156,065 in penalties for 13 serious violations and two willful violations, including permit-required confined spaces violation.

Massachusetts

  • Bob’s Tire Company of New Bedford was cited for one repeat and two serious health violations with proposed penalties of $58,178. The company was the subject of two inspections in response to complaints.
  • Dollar General in Dracut was cited for five willful and one serious violation and initial penalties are $628,411 for willful violations related to exits, fire extinguishers, and handling of materials.

Missouri

  • Schrimpf Landscaping, a subcontractor on a construction site in Jefferson City, was cited for two serious violations after a retaining wall collapsed killing a worker. The company faces $18,892 in fines for failing to protect employees from struck-by and crushed-by hazards and to properly train employees.
  • Dyno Noble Inc of Carthage faces penalties of $32,890 related to fall protection.

North Carolina

  • KMS Roofing/Sheet Metal, L.L.C. of Greensboro faces $105,000 in penalties for two willful and one serious violation related to fall protection, training, and ladders.

Tennessee

  • Hankook Tire Manufacturing Tennessee, LP of Clarksville faces $75,750 following an inspection initiated by a complaint.

Wisconsin

  • Lincoln Industries Of Wisconsin, LLC of New Berlin faces $40,482 in penalties related to lockout/tagout and hazard communications.

For additional information.

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

OSHA Watch 2

Guidance to ensure uniform enforcement of Silica Standards

compliance directive was issued, designed to ensure uniformity in inspection and enforcement procedures when addressing respirable crystalline silica exposures in general industry, maritime, and construction. The directive provides compliance safety and health officers with guidance on how to enforce the silica standards’ requirements and provides clarity on major topics, such as alternative exposure control methods when a construction employer does not fully and properly implement Table 1, variability in sampling, multi-employer situations, and temporary workers.

Trenching webinar

A webinar on trench safety hosted by the agency and the American Society of Safety Professionals is available free online.

Recent fines and awards

Florida

  • Inspected under the Regional Emphasis Program for Falls in Construction, CJM Roofing Inc., based in West Palm, was cited for exposing employees to fall and other hazards at three residential worksites in Jensen Beach and Port St. Lucie. The contractor faces penalties totaling $199,711.
  • Inspected under the Regional Emphasis Program for Falls in Construction, Action Roofing Services, Inc., based in Pompano Beach, was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards at a worksite in Boca Raton, Florida. The roofing contractor faces $51,952 in penalties.
  • Two construction contractors, CMR Construction & Roofing LLC of Panama City, and Modern Construction Experts LLC of Stuart, were cited for failing to protect employees from fall hazards at a construction worksite in Panama City. The two companies face $126,169 in penalties. An employee fatally fell 84 feet while working on the roof of a hotel.
  • After receiving notice of an employee hospitalized after a trench collapse, an inspection was initiated at Florida Progress LLC, operating as Duke Energy Florida LLC. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based electric power distributor faces $53,976 in penalties for exposing employees to excavation hazards at a Zephyrhills, Florida, worksite.

Georgia

  • Norfolk Southern Railway Corp. has been ordered to reinstate and pay more than $150,000 in back wages for whistleblower violations after terminating an employee for reporting an on-the-job injury at its Atlanta facility, and also filing an alleged violation report with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The company was also ordered to pay the employee $75,000 in punitive damages, $10,000 in compensatory damages, and attorney’s fees.
  • Inspected under the National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation, Construction Management & Engineering Services Inc. was cited for exposing employees to excavation hazards at a Duluth worksite. The Norcross-based construction contractor faces $134,937 in penalties.

Illinois

  • Grain firm Farmers Elevator Co., Manteno, received citations for two willful and three serious violations and a fine of $205,106 after a worker died at its Grant Park facility when he fell into a grain bin. The company was placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

Nebraska

  • A federal appeals court confirmed a serious citation issued to Jacobs Field Services North America Inc. for failing to ensure “appropriate” personal protective equipment was worn by an electrician who was seriously burned. While the company argued that the work area was “deenergized” and fell under an “Electrically Safe Work Condition,” as well as unpreventable employee misconduct, the judge found the company had violated the standard requiring PPE when “there are potential electrical hazards.”

For additional information.

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

OSHA Watch 1

New resources – COVID-19

 

California becomes first state to adopt standard to protect agricultural employees working at night

A new workplace safety standard to protect agricultural employees who work at night became effective July 1 and will be enforced by Cal/OSHA. It’s designed to protect agricultural workers who harvest, operate vehicles, and do other jobs between sunset and sunrise.

Judge rejects AFL-CIO lawsuit calling for emergency temporary standard on infectious disease

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on June 11 rejected an AFL-CIO lawsuit calling on the Department of Labor and OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard on infectious diseases.

Virginia is creating COVID-19 emergency workplace standard

The state’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted June 24 to create an emergency temporary standard, which essentially requires employers to follow CDC guidelines or face fines. The proposed standards are expected to go into effect July 15.

DOL Inspector General review of OSHA actions during pandemic

Faced with mounting criticism about the agency’s response to the pandemic, the Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General issued a three-page report on June 17. The report notes responding to the “significant increase” in worker and whistleblower complaints during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with completing inspections and investigations, all in a timely manner, are among the challenges facing OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, given the limited resources available. OSHA has six months to issue a citation and proposed penalties.

Employers’ injury, illness data is public information

Data from Form 300A is not confidential and there are no restrictions on its dissemination according to a court ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit made by the nonprofit news organization Center for Investigative Reporting under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking information from OSHA Forms 300A, 300 and 301 forms. The agency no longer collects information from Forms 300 and 301.

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

OSHA watch (part 2)

Heat illness prevention

new video on heat hazard recognition and prevention is available.

Cal/OSHA issued a news release reminding employers to protect outdoor workers from heat illness.

Construction safety

A virtual stand-down to prevent struck-by incidents in construction is now available to view.

Recent fines and awards

Florida

  • Jax Utilities Management Inc. was cited for exposing employees to cave-in hazards at a Jacksonville worksite. Inspected as part of the National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation, the construction contractor faces $56,405 in penalties.
  • Two contractors, Prestige Estates Property Management LLC of North Miami and Jesus Balbuena of Miami, face $44,146 in penalties for failure to protect employees from fall hazards at a construction worksite in North Miami. The investigation followed an employee’s 20-foot fall from an aerial lift that led to fatal injuries.
  • Flat Glass Distributors Inc. was cited for exposing employees to unguarded machinery, failure to implement and have a written lockout/tagout program, and electrical hazards at the Jacksonville fabrication and distribution facility. Inspected as part of the National Emphasis Program on Amputations, the custom glass shaping and cutting distributor faces $121,446 in penalties.
  • Crown Roofing LLC was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards at a residential worksite in Tamarac. The Sarasota-based contractor faces penalties of $134,937. The inspection was initiated under the Regional Emphasis Program for Falls in Construction after inspectors observed employees working on roofs without fall protection.

For additional information.

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

OSHA watch

Guidance on distancing

Recent guidance focuses on strategies to implement social distancing in the workplace. Spanish version. It urges employers to isolate workers showing symptoms of coronavirus until they can go home or seek medical care, establish flexible worksites and work hours, stagger breaks and rearrange seating in common areas to maintain social distance, mark social distancing with floor tape where customers are present and reposition work stations and install plastic partitions to create more distance. It also issued new procedures to make it easier for federal workers in high-risk industries to obtain workers compensation for COVID-19.

Coronavirus alerts: Industry specific recommended practices

In May, recommended business practices were released for food service, nursing homes and long-term care facilities, dental practitioners, retail pharmacies, and rideshare, taxi and car services. All business guidances released to date can be found here in English and Spanish.

COVID-19 Quick Tips Videos

New animated videos provide quick tips to keep workers safe from COVID-19:

For all the quick tip videos released related to coronavirus, including Spanish versions, go here.

Eight ways to protect meat processing workers from COVID-19

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt outlined eight ways to protect meat processing workers from COVID-19.

Guidance is now available in English and Spanish.

COVID-19 Q & A: Social distancing in meat and poultry facilities

Q. In some areas of meat and poultry processing facilities, social distancing at 6 feet of distance may not be feasible in order to maintain continued operation at the maximum capacity possible. In these areas, are other controls, based on the hierarchy of controls outlined in the CDC/OSHA guidance (e.g., personal protective equipment) acceptable in order to maintain safe operations at the maximum capacity possible?

A. Employers should use the hierarchy of controls to control hazards and protect workers, including by first trying to eliminate hazards from the workplace, then implementing engineering controls followed by administrative controls and safe work practices, and finally, using personal protective equipment (PPE). When engineering controls, such as physical barriers, are not feasible in a particular workplace or for a certain operation, other types of controls, including PPE, may be considered in accordance with the hierarchy.

Poster and video show right way to put on, take off respirator

A poster and video detail seven steps to properly put on and remove a respirator at work.

English version of poster

Spanish version of poster

Guidance and resources from state OSHA programs

California

Indiana

Michigan

Minnesota

North Carolina

Tennessee

Virginia

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

OSHA changes course again on recording of COVID-19 cases and increases onsite inspections

OSHA’s shifting guidance has employers’ heads spinning. For the third time since the onset of the pandemic, OSHA has issued guidance about recording COVID-19 cases. In March, it sent a memo reminding employers that COVID-19 diagnoses are recordable events, but in April it backtracked, significantly limiting the reporting requirements. Specifically, only cases related to health care workers, first responders, and correctional institution employees had to be recorded. All other employers were exempt except in cases in which “objective evidence” existed that a COVID-19 infection was work-related or the evidence was “reasonably available” to the employer.

New guidance announced on May 19 overrides the April guidance.Essentially, the new guidance requires an individualized work-relatedness analysis for all industries.

Effective May 26, COVID-19 cases are recordable if the illness is confirmed as COVID-19, the illness is work-related as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5 and the case involves at least one of the general recording criteria listed in 29 CFR 1904.7. The criteria include death, days away from work, medical treatment “beyond first aid,” loss of consciousness, and restricted work or transfer to another job. The revised enforcement policy directs that employers “make reasonable efforts” to investigate confirmed cases of coronavirus in the workplace to determine if they were more likely than not work-related.

Recognizing employee privacy concerns, OSHA indicates that employers are “not expected to undertake extensive medical inquiries” and may rely only “on the information reasonably available to the employer at the time it made its work-relatedness determination.” According to Conn Maciel Carey LLP, an OSHA/MSHA Workplace Safety, Labor and Employment Boutique Law Firm, it will be sufficient in most cases for employers to:

  1. Ask the employee how he believes he contracted the COVID-19 illness
  2. Discuss with the employee his work and out-of-work activities that may have led to the COVID-19 illness; and
  3. Review the employee’s work environment for potential SARS-CoV-2 exposure (which should be informed by any other instances of workers in that environment contracting COVID-19 illness).

During the investigations, employers need to consider workers’ privacy and refrain from disclosing the names of those who have tested positive for the virus to others in the workplace and should document all aspects of the investigation. OSHA notes, “If, after the reasonable and good faith inquiry described above, the employer cannot determine whether it is more likely than not that exposure in the workplace played a causal role with respect to a particular case of COVID-19, the employer does not need to record that COVID-19 illness.”

To assist employers in identifying work-relatedness, OSHA describes the types of evidence that may weigh in favor of or against work-relatedness. For instance, OSHA says, COVID-19 illnesses “are likely work-related” if:

  • Several cases develop among workers who work closely together and there is no alternative explanation;
  • The illness is contracted shortly after lengthy, close exposure to a particular customer or coworker who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 and there is no alternative explanation; and
  • Job duties include having frequent, close exposure to the general public in a locality with ongoing community transmission and there is no alternative explanation.

The guidance also indicates that an employee’s COVID-19 illness likely is NOT work-related if:

  • Only one worker in a general vicinity in the workplace contracts COVID-19;
  • Job duties do not include having frequent contact with the general public, regardless of the rate of community spread;
  • Outside the workplace, the infected employee associates closely and frequently with a non-coworker (e.g., a family member, significant other, or close friend) who has COVID-19.

As Conn Maciel Carey LLP points out, the biggest differences between the April 10 guidance and the May 19 guidance are:

  1. There is no exemption from conducting case-by-case work relatedness analyses for medium and low-risk exposure workplaces; and
  2. The new memo expands the examples of the type of objective evidence of likely work-relatedness from just a cluster of positive cases, to also include cases where someone contracts the illness after a lengthy exposure at work or has job duties that involve frequent, close exposure to the general public.

The firm also notes the importance of the term “no alternative explanation.” Where there is widespread community spread, it is important to document if an employee acknowledges such interactions away from work.

When determining whether an employer has complied with the revised policy, OSHA instructs compliance officers in a memo issued the same day to apply these considerations:

  • The reasonableness of the employer’s investigation into whether the COVID-19 case was work-related
  • The evidence available to the employer
  • The evidence that COVID-19 was contracted at work

Consistent with existing regulations, employers with no more than 10 employees and certain employers in “low-hazard industries” do not have an obligation to report COVID-19 cases unless a work-related illness results in death, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye.

It is important to remember that even if a COVID-19 is recordable, it does not mean that it will be compensated by workers’ comp. OSHA recordability does not impact workers’ comp determinations and vice versa.

What employers should do now

For employers to prove a reasonable and full faith inquiry, Dustin Boss, a fellow Certified WorkComp Advisor offers this advice:

  • Implement preventive measures and methods for contact tracing as employees return to the workplace
  • Develop procedures to respect employee privacy during investigation into work-relatedness of a confirmed case of COVID-19
  • Update 2020 OSHA records and retrain staff members responsible for tracking injuries (if late, submit 2019 data which was due March 2)
  • Focus on minimizing the risk of transmission in the workplace and develop procedures to investigate the circumstances surrounding employees who test positive for COVID-19

Beyond the recording requirements, employers are exposed to the possibility of OSHA citations. As the fear of contracting the novel coronavirus permeates the workplace, thousands of employees have complained to OSHA regarding the insufficiency of their employers’ protection against COVID-19. In the same news release announcing the new enforcement guidelines, OSHA announced that it is increasing in-person inspections at all types of workplaces. “The new enforcement guidance reflects changing circumstances in which many non-critical businesses have begun to reopen in areas of lower community spread. The risk of transmission is lower in specific categories of workplaces, and personal protective equipment potentially needed for inspections is more widely available. OSHA staff will continue to prioritize COVID-19 inspections, and will utilize all enforcement tools as OSHA has historically done.”

Boss points out that enforcement of COVID-19 issues falls under the catch-all General Duty Clause that employers will provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious harm to his employees. He notes that citations for COVID-19 exposure will rely on guidance the employer did not meet, including OSHA’s.

Both OSHA and the CDC recommend employers adopt exposure control plans. (see post for more detail)

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

OSHA watch

Recent fines and awards

Florida

  • Cathcart Construction Company-Florida LLC was cited for exposing employees to excavation hazards at worksites in Orlando and Winter Garden. The general contractor faces $303,611 in penalties.
  • Skanska-Granite-Lane, a joint venture operating as SGL Constructors, was cited for exposing employees to safety hazards at the I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project worksite in Orlando. One worker suffered fatal injuries and another was hospitalized. The contractor faces $53,976 in penalties.

Georgia

  • Creative Multicare Inc., a carpet restoration, plumbing, and resurfacing contractor based in Stockbridge, was cited for exposing employees to safety and health hazards after a fatal incident at a worksite in Perry. The company faces $183,127 in penalties for failure to properly manage the handling and labeling of hazardous chemicals.
  • Martin-Pinero CPM LLC, a construction contractor based in Atlanta, was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards after a fatal incident at a highway construction project in Atlanta. The company faces $170,020 in penalties. The inspection was conducted in conjunction with the Regional Emphasis Program on Falls in Construction.

Illinois

  • Three employers, Northwestern University, Hill Mechanical Corp., and National Heat & Power Corp., were cited for exposing workers to permit-required confined space hazards associated with underground steam vaults. Northwestern University was cited for failing to provide required information to contractors and coordinate activities, identify and evaluate high-pressure steam as a hazard, isolate steam energy, perform air monitoring, provide required signage, complete entry permits, evaluate their confined space hazard program and ensure the ability to rescue employees from a confined space. It faces penalties of $105,835. Hill Mechanical Corp. was cited for failing to obtain information from the host employer and coordinate activities, identify and evaluate hazards of the space, isolate steam energy, perform air monitoring, complete entry permits, provide required confined space training and ensure the ability to rescue employees from a confined space. The company faces penalties of $105,835. National Heat & Power Corp., the contractor brought in to complete the repairs, faces penalties of $24,292 for four serious violations involving failing to obtain information from the host employer, adequately isolate steam energy, provide required confined space training, and complete entry permits.

Missouri

  • Skinner Tank Company, based in Yale, Oklahoma, was cited for lack of fall protection after an employee constructing a storage tank suffered fatal injuries in a 50-foot fall at a Missouri agricultural facility. The company faces $415,204 in penalties for two willful and 11 serious safety violations and has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

Virginia

  • A $5,000 citation against a naval contractor that trains sea lions to detect trespassers was upheld after the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission determined that a failure to mitigate drowning hazards led to the death of an employee. The Reston-based Science Applications International Corp was cited under the General Duty Clause.

Wisconsin

  • MODS International Inc., a fabrication company that converts shipping containers into commercial and residential structures, was cited for exposing employees to multiple hazards at their facility in Appleton. The company faces penalties of $216,299 for seven repeat and seven serious safety and health violations. The company is contesting the citations.

For more information.

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

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

 

COVID-19: Returning to workplace checklist

Employers face a daunting task as they craft new and revised policies for the “new normal” as employees start to return to work onsite. Not only do they have to comply with a myriad of constantly changing federal and state laws and guidelines, but they have to earn the trust of their employees, vendors, and customers that the workplace is safe. It’s critical to have a clear plan that is well communicated, but flexible, as this is uncharted territory. Open communication and encouraging feedback will build confidence as safe and efficient processes evolve.

The details of each employer’s plan will look different. At a minimum, it must reflect compliance with federal and state laws and guidelines. Industry groups and associations provide helpful guidance and resources and OSHA has issued guidance for specific industries. The CDC guidelines for business can be found here.

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) has launched Getting America Safely Back to Work that describes how OEM physicians can help employers navigate through the myriad return-to-workplace issues as well as return-to-work/fitness for duty issues for injured employees.

Automotive-seating manufacturer Lear Corp. recently published the “Safe Work Playbook,” a guide for safe practices at work during the pandemic for organizations of all sizes. It includes steps for cleaning and disinfecting equipment, staggering shifts and lunch breaks, setting up a pandemic response team, establishing onsite health screening, and creating protocols for isolating employees who come to work sick.

Here are key issues to consider:

  1. Workplace safety: a COVID-19 Infection/Exposure Control Plan
    • Administrative controls: staggered return to work, reducing number of workers onsite at one time, changing or alternating shifts minimizing or eliminating overlap, cross-training workers to accommodate more absenteeism, re-schedule lunch breaks, appointing a COVID-19 coordinator to oversee equipment disinfecting and social distancing
    • Engineering controls: reconfiguring workspaces to promote physical distancing, increasing ventilation rates, high-efficiency air filters, installing physical barriers, one-way traffic patterns throughout workplace, monitors that beep when one worker gets within six feet of another, more handwashing stations, drive-through windows for customer service
    • Pre-shift health screening: temperature checks and health/symptom questionnaires
    • Decisions about personal protective equipment, respirators, face masks, and face coverings – will they be required, who will pay for them, etc.
    • Detailed plans for enhanced disinfecting, including common touchpoints such as time clocks, doors, shared equipment, break room. Shift changes should allow the opportunity for optimal disinfection of the workplace
    • Screening and minimizing interaction with all visitors and vendors
    • Plan for safe meeting places with no more than 10 employees at any meeting
    • Protocols for isolating employees who become ill at work, stay-at-home requirements, and exposure communication to affected staff
    • Restrict access to confined or closed spaces
    • Provide adequate handwashing facilities and/or hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
    • Define and limit travel to “essential”
  2. Recalling employees
    • Larger employers are encouraged to use a phasing-in system to limit exposure and build employee confidence
    • Know how to recall furloughed employees to qualify for loan forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program and how the new federal paid leave laws apply to employees returning from furlough
    • Keep separate records for payroll period that workers were furloughed for workers’ compensation purposes
    • If job responsibilities have changed, understand what needs to be done for compliance with FLSA and Workers’ Compensation
    • Notify the state unemployment agency of employees recalled
    • Determine how to handle employees who are unable or unwilling to return to work
    • Determine if light duty will be offered to injured workers to return to work and what will happen if they refuse to do so because of fear of exposure
    • Evaluate the need for extra protections for “high-risk” employees
    • Review any benefit and compensation changes that have been made
    • Have a remote pre-return training for managers and supervisors
    • On the first day of facility reopening, have staggered staff training in an area that adheres to social distancing protocol
    • Consider requiring employees to sign and acknowledge the organizations’ policies on preventing the spread of the coronavirus
  3. OSHA
    • The COVID-19 exposure control plan or response plan should provide a detailed description of everything the employer is doing to address the hazard, including an assessment of potential changes to personal protective equipment, administrative controls, workspace separation, and staggered work shifts
    • Keep adequate records of good-faith efforts to comply with standards that require annual or recurring audits, reviews, training, or assessments
    • Understand the reporting requirements for COVID-19 cases
    • Follow guidance issued for your industry
    • Do not retaliate against employees who file complaints
  4. Work from home
    • When possible, continue remoting working and flexible hours
    • Review policies to determine if they need to be strengthened or updated
    • Communicate which jobs will be permitted to continue to telework and why
    • Consider staggering work in office and at home among team members
    • Assess IT infrastructure and staff
    • Monitor productivity and be clear about expectations

Looking ahead

Employers have learned valuable lessons regarding their resiliency over the past months. It’s important to prepare for a potential second wave in the fall as well as implement a business continuity plan, including infectious disease control, if a plan does not exist.

A time of crisis is what truly defines a reputation. Your response to your employees, customers, and vendors will be the key to survival and long-term prosperity.

Additional resources and a formal checklist can be found at the Duncan Financial Group COVID-19 Resource Center Online

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