In the past few weeks, OSHA has taken the following actions related to short-term COVID-19 risk in the workplace, advising industry with respect to evaluating exposure, use of PPE, reporting and compliance with OSHA standards and guidance, among other matters. Most of these items can be accessed at OSHA’s COVID-19 website. In addition, EPA and CDC have issued updated guidance for cleaning and disinfecting workplaces and businesses.
- Fact sheet on worker exposure. OSHA has published a fact sheet, available online, describing positions from high to low risk of exposure to assist employers in classifying risk and identifying exposed workers.
- Interim complaint plan. OSHA has published an interim plan advising Area Offices processing coronavirus-related complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports. OSHA’s goal is to respond rapidly to implement appropriate corrective measures.
- Worker rights. OSHA has published a webpage on worker rights to a safe workplace, noting that employees have a right to speak about exposure and health-related concerns and/or file a complaint with OSHA with protection from retaliation.
- Respirator flexibility. OSHA has issued enforcement guidance, available online, assuring employers flexibility in enforcement of the Respiratory Protection standard and other health-related standards, where employers extend or reuse N-95 masks, due to shortage. Employers may consider use of alternative classes of NIOSH-approved respirators that provide equal or greater protection compared to an N-95 mask.
- Illness reporting. Employers should be aware that employee cases of COVID-19 are “reportable events” for Form 300 reporting, for compliance with 29 CFR Part 1904. Additional explanation is provided on OSHA’s COVID-19 webpage.
- Planning guidance. OSHA has developed COVID-19 planning guidance based on traditional infection prevention and industrial hygiene practices, as well as relevant engineering, administrative, and work practice controls and personal protective equipment (PPE). The guidance is available on OSHA’s COVID-19 webpage and encourages flexible H.R. policies with liberal leave for illness.
- Good faith compliance efforts. Noting that current developments may limit worker training opportunities, OSHA has issued interim guidance to inspectors to consider an employer’s good faith compliance efforts during the pandemic. Inspectors are directed to consider whether the employer: (1) explored all options to comply with applicable standards (e.g., use of virtual training or remote communication strategies); (2) implemented interim alternative protections, such as engineering or administrative controls; and (3) rescheduled required activity as soon as possible. Employers unable to comply with OSHA requirements due to mandated closure should demonstrate a good faith attempt to meet applicable requirements as soon as possible following the re-opening of the workplace.
Verdant Law includes experienced OSHA attorneys who have been following these developments closely and stand ready to assist clients with OSHA issues, whether related to the pandemic or other matters.