OSHA Revisions for Reopening

Adoption of revised enforcement policies designed to ensure protective environment

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has adopted revised policies for enforcing OSHA’s requirements with respect to coronavirus as economies reopen in states throughout the country.

Throughout the course of the pandemic, understanding about the transmission and prevention of infection has improved. The government and the private sector have taken rapid and evolving measures to slow the virus’s spread, protect employees, and adapt to new ways of doing business.

As we’ve already seen in the last two weeks, the cost of reopening can be perilous. States like Georgia, Colorado, South Carolina and Wisconsin, among the first to reopen, saw immediate spikes in cases—although the constitution of what truly is a resurgent “case” remains hotly debated. Such perils were reinforced this week in a state that has only allowed reopening for essential businesses when a Chicago Ford production plant had to balk at its initial plan due to a coronavirus scare, ultimately sending thousands of employees back home after just one day. The situation worries many workers, even those who want to get back to work.

“All these people are crowded and on top of each other,” Ford employee Michael Hopper told CBS Chicago. “I cleaned my own workstation myself. How our jobs are set up, if one person gets in the hole, that would affect the person behind him.”

Now, as more states begin reopening their economies, OSHA has issued two revised enforcement policies to ensure employers are taking action to protect their employees.

First, OSHA 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.

Second, OSHA is revising its previous enforcement policy for recording cases of coronavirus. Under OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements, coronavirus is a recordable illness, and employers are responsible for recording cases of the coronavirus, if the case:

–   Is confirmed as a coronavirus illness;

–   Is work-related as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5; and

–   Involves one or more of the general recording criteria in 29 CFR 1904.7, such as medical treatment beyond first aid or days away from work.

Under the new policy issued today, OSHA will enforce the recordkeeping requirements of 29 CFR 1904 for employee coronavirus illnesses for all employers. Given the nature of the disease and community spread, however, in many instances it remains difficult to determine whether a coronavirus illness is work-related, especially when an employee has experienced potential exposure both in and out of the workplace. OSHA’s guidance emphasizes that employers must make reasonable efforts, based on the evidence available to the employer, to ascertain whether a particular case of coronavirus is work-related.

Recording a coronavirus illness does not mean that the employer has violated any OSHA standard. Following existingregulations, employers with 10 or fewer employees and certain employers in low hazard industries have no recording obligations; they need only report work-related coronavirus illnesses that result in a fatality or an employee’s in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye. For further information and resources about the coronavirus disease, please visit OSHA’s coronavirus webpage.

“Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance, the organization concluded. “The mission of the Department of Labor is to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.”

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