States are beginning to revive their economies; businesses are reopening, and employees are returning to work. As we begin this shift forward it is important to be mindful of all guidelines provided by OSHA and state and local guidelines regarding Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). OSHA has just released updates to its latest industry-specific COVID-19 guidance.
With each passing week we know more about COVID-19 and are able to create improved, specific guidelines for businesses reopening. Each updated guideline is vital to the health and safety of your employees.
While reopening the workplace after COVID-19 reconfiguring your workplace according to these new guidelines can be the difference between keeping a healthy work environment and having an outbreak in your office.
The rate of new cases, hospitalizations and fatalities are currently decreasing throughout the country due to the steps our government has taken in accordance with OSHA’s guidelines to protect employees. Moving forward, we must continue to follow such guidelines if we want to see this decrease last.
OSHA is working to ensure businesses perform COVID-19 employee training and enforce safe working conditions for those returning to work in order to continue to slow down the virus’s spread as we adapt to new ways of doing business. Their Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan for COVID-19 provides the current instruction for eliminating health hazards.
This plan lays out the framework for areas that the spread of the disease has significantly decreased to return to their original inspection planning policy while still prioritizing COVID-19 cases and utilizing the appropriate precautions and equipment.
For areas where OSHA has seen an increase or resurgence of the transmission of COVID-19 they will utilize available resources according to cases with fatalities and imminent danger exposures and attempt to perform remote inspections with the intention of later performing an on-site portion of the inspection when resources become available.
General Enforcement Guidance Changes
Rapid Response Investigations (RRI):
- Work-related fatalities must be reported to OSHA within eight hours
- In-patient hospitalizations, amputation or losses of an eye must be reported within 24 hours
- Any fatalities that occur within 30 days of a work-related incident must be reported within 24 hours
- The Area Director (AD) will then determine if an inspection or RRI needs to be conducted
- RRI will identify hazards, provide abatement assistance and confirm abatement
Process of AD Evaluations
- The potential risk of exposure at the workplace must be determined by the AD prior to an inspection so their resources can be prioritized effectively
- In instances where the AD feels an inspection is warranted, Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) must then evaluate any hazards and limit exposure
- CSHOs should avoid interference with the provision of ongoing medical services
- CSHOs must report any potential exposure to their supervisor and AD
Specific Guidance for COVID-19 Enforcement
Discerning when to exercise enforcement can be a difficult task. These specific guidelines aid you in this process and will help you gain a better understanding of the inspection and citation guidance.
Your workplace risk level is a big factor, it is important to understand which of these your workplace falls into in order to better understand OSHA’s guidelines and how they apply to you specifically.
- High exposure: These employees are at the highest risk of exposure because they are in direct contact with suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19. This includes those working with COVID-19 patients in hospitals, nursing homes and emergency response facilities.
- Medium exposure: These are people in a workforce who are required to be in close contact with other people who may be exposed including their co-workers. This includes places with ongoing community transmission, travel and contact with the public in settings like schools, food processing and high-volume retail centers.
- Low exposure: These jobs don’t require any contact with the public or any suspected of being infected, in addition, this means minimal contact with coworkers.
These levels of exposure and risk are now becoming OSHA’s focus because they are no longer divided between being essential and non-essential as the world begins to reopen. Response to complaints will be based on case-specific facts and resource limitations. Any cases with fatalities, imminent danger or life-critical activities will have an on-site inspection.
In order to be in compliance with these new guidelines Area Offices should follow the modified procedures below:
- The AD should prioritize resources and consider all detail in COVID-19 cases with fatalities and imminent danger to discern if it is better to perform a remote investigation instead of being on site. Area Offices will assist employers with this process by directing them to the documents on protective measures.
- Places with insufficient resources will be initiated remotely and when resources are available the on-site portion of the inspection will be conducted using a program developed by OSHA.
- Depending on the discretion of the AD, non-formal procedures can sufficiently address alleged hazards unless the communication via phone or fax is inadequate.
- RRI will handle any cases with work-related hospitalizations by referring to the procedures set in the OSHA Memorandum on RRIs.
- The status and condition of work operations should document any serious hazards, conditions of exposure and any information indicative of the likelihood of exposure.
The Specifics of Inspections and Procedures
Workplaces with a high exposure risk are the focus of inspections in response to COVID-19 and it is up to the AD to determine whether to conduct an on-site or remote inspection. These inspections are meant to confirm that they are up to date on the most recent guidelines from both the CDC and OSHA.
In inspections CSHOs are looking to ensure that the facility is adequately trained in healthcare specific to their office and employees. They will look at individual characteristics and underlying conditions that are known to increase the risk for complications with COVID-19 including; being over 65, having a history of smoking, being immunosuppressed or having medical conditions that would further the complications of the disease.
During the inspection, it is expected for the CSHO to be provided with any equipment and decontamination supplies they may need for the materials that they bring on site. Any reusable PPE must be cleaned on site or properly bagged to be cleaned later.
They will still follow the same inspection procedures as previously outlined. Instead of making any big changes to the outline, it has been updated and made more specific.
Modifications to Procedure:
- Opening Conference: CSHOs should take all necessary precautions to access the location for a formal interview without being exposed to locations with confirmed or suspected cases. Conferences can instead be accessed on the phone, in uncontaminated offices or outdoors.
- Program and Document: Before attempting an inspection on-site CSHOs should take many steps outlined on OSHA’s website including ensuring the employer has a pandemic plan outlined, has reviewed their hazard assessment and protocols and determining if the facility has airborne infection.
- Walkaround: CSHOs should determine which rooms are safe to walk through and should never enter a patient’s room or treatment areas. Photographs or videos should be used for air documentation only and pictures should never be taken of patients.
- Compliance Officer Protection: CSHOs are encouraged to get COVID-19 vaccinations if and when they become available as well as the seasonal influenza vaccine. The minimum level of respiratory protection for CSHOs a fit half-mark with at least an N95 rated filter, goggles or face shields, disposable gloves and disposable gowns.
- Safety Practices During Inspections: CSHOs Should not enter rooms with COVID-19 patients or rooms with airborne infection. They must wash their hands with soap and water after each inspection after removing gloves.
- Applicable OSHA Standards: CSHOs must rely on specific facts and findings for each case.
- Observation of Hazards: If there are no violations of OSHA’s standards the CSHO should end the inspection and immediately leave.
- Citation Guidance: Violations of OSHA standards will be classified as serious.
- General Duty Clause: If CSHOs observe violations to OSHA’s standards they should then obtain evidence of the potential violation that shows the employer failed to keep the workplace free of hazards, the hazard was recognized, had the potential to cause death or serious physical harm and there was a possible method to correct the hazard.
- Use of CDC recommendations: The most current guidance should be used to assess the employer’s protective measures. When this is not the case, CSHOs should determine if the employees are exposed as a result of the hazard.
- Citation Review: The citation will be reviewed with the Regional Administrator and National Office before issuance.
Guidance for OSHA Standards
Beyond all of these specific guidelines and standards for inspections, the main thing CSHOs are trying to determine is if the employer is making true efforts towards ensuring the safety of their workers and taking proper coronavirus employer precautions. This includes eliminating workplace hazards, prioritizing efforts to acquire and use equipment that has not exceeded its shelf life and using homemade masks only as a last resort.
To ensure that you are successfully meeting these guidelines as an employer you should reconfigure the workplace to follow these guidelines, designate a workplace safety coordinator to oversee COVID polices, train employees on cleaning and disinfecting procedures and clearly communicate practices and policies on disease.
At National Safety Compliance, we have a Pandemic Training Course coming soon, please sign up for our newsletter if you would like to know when that is available. We also have COVID-19 safety training posters available.
To view the entire list of guidelines from OSHA, click here.
If you have any questions about the new guidelines for COVID-19, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can contact us using the chat function on our site, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 877-922-7233.