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In response to the surge of delta variant cases across the country, federal workplace safety officials just issued updated guidance to help employers and workers identify current COVID-19 risks for unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers – making many employers feel like they are in the same ol’ situation they were in just a few months ago. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) updated guidance, released on August 13, revises its June 2021 guidance applicable to those not covered by OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for healthcare workplaces and adheres to updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) coronavirus guidance issued last month. What are the top 10 takeaways employers need to know about with respect to OSHA’s most recent guidance?
OSHA’s Updated Recommendations
As most are aware by now, the CDC updated its recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals to reduce their risk of becoming infected with the delta variant and potentially spreading it to others. The CDC’s guidance addresses mask wearing in public indoor settings; choosing to wear masks regardless of the potential level of transmission (particularly if individuals are at risk or have someone in their household who is at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated); and revised testing recommendations for known exposures.
In its revised guidance, OSHA has essentially adopted analogous recommendations for employers. To follow this guidance, you should implement multi-layered interventions to protect unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In light of OSHA’s recent guidance, it is clear the agency is focused at facilitating higher vaccination rates via imposing new standards on employers.
Top 10 Employer Takeaways
Here are the top 10 takeaways from OSHA’s new guidance.
At sites where unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers cannot physically distance, transparent shields (or other like barriers) may be considered. These types of barriers should block face-to-face pathways between individuals to prevent direct transmission of respiratory droplets. Any openings should be placed at the bottom, made as small as possible, and the height should consider the employee’s posture while working (i.e., sitting or standing). Ventilation, fire safety, and other safety considerations should be incorporated when designing and installing barriers.
Face coverings should be made of at least two layers of a tightly woven breathable fabric, such as cotton, and should not have exhalation valves or vents. They should fit snugly over the nose, mouth, and chin with no large gaps on the outside of the face. Workers who are outdoors may opt not to wear face coverings unless they are at risk. Regardless, employers should support employees who continue to wear a face covering, especially when working closely with others. If an employer determines PPE is necessary to protect unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers from exposure to COVID-19, the employer must provide PPE per the relevant OSHA PPE standards.
Employers should educate and train workers on their COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in languages they understand. Employers should train managers on how to implement their COVID-19 policies. These policies should be communicated clearly, frequently, and using multiple methods to promote a safe and healthy workplace. OSHA suggests that communications should be in plain language that unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers understand (including non-English languages, and American Sign Language or other accessible communication methods, if applicable) and in a manner accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Training should include basic facts about COVID-19, including how it is spread and the importance of physical distancing (including remote work), ventilation, vaccination, use of face coverings, hand hygiene, and workplace policies and procedures to protect workers from COVID-19 hazards. In addition, employers should implement a means of tracking which (and when) workers receive this information.
Employers should suggest or require unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests to wear face coverings in public-facing workplaces, such as retail establishments. All customers, visitors, or guests should wear face coverings in public, indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. This could include posting a notice or otherwise suggesting or requiring individuals wear face coverings, even if no longer required by your jurisdiction.
Employers should maintain workplace ventilation systems. As COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors, improving and maintaining ventilation systems is a key engineering control. Such a maintenance program can be used as part of a layered strategy to reduce the concentration of viral particles in indoor air (and consequently reduce the risk of transmission to unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in particular). A well-maintained ventilation system is essential in any indoor workplace setting, and when working properly, ventilation is a primary control measure to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Specific recommendations can be located within the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Guidance for Building Operations and Industrial Settings during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Key measures include ensuring HVAC systems are operating in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications, conducting regularly scheduled inspections and maintenance, maximizing the amount of outside air supplied, installing air filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 13 or higher where feasible. Buildings without HVAC systems should maximize natural ventilation by opening windows or doors, when conditions allow (if that does not pose a safety risk) and consider using portable air cleaners with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters in spaces with high occupancy or limited ventilation.
Employers should perform routine cleaning and disinfection. This is especially important if someone who has been in the facility within 24 hours is suspected of having COVID-19 or is a confirmed COVID-19 case. In those situations, OSHA recommends following the CDC’s cleaning and disinfection recommendations.
Employers must record and report workplace COVID-19 infections and deaths: Under OSHA’s recordkeeping standard, employers are required to record work-related cases of COVID-19 illness on OSHA’s Form 300 logs if the following requirements are met: (1) the case is a confirmed case of COVID-19; (2) the case is work-related; and (3) the case involves one or more relevant recording criteria (e.g., medical treatment, days away from work). Likewise, employers must follow the requirements when reporting work-related COVID-19 fatalities and hospitalizations.
Employers should implement protections from retaliation and set up anonymous methods for workers to raise concerns about COVID-19-related hazards. Employers should ensure workers know whom to contact with questions and/or concerns about workplace safety and health, and that there are prohibitions against retaliation for raising workplace safety and health concerns or engaging in other protected occupational safety and health activities. This could be accomplished by using an employee hotline or other method for workers to voice concerns anonymously.
The guidance also reminds employers to follow all other applicable mandatory OSHA standards. These mandatory OSHA standards include requirements for PPE, respiratory protection, sanitation, protection from bloodborne pathogens, and OSHA’s requirements for employee access to medical and exposure records.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued guidance for enforcing OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements for COVID-19 cases. OSHA recordkeeping requirements mandate covered employers record certain work-related injuries and illnesses on their OSHA 300 log.
According to the guidance, COVID-19 is a recordable illness, and must be recorded on an employer’s OSHA 300 log if:
Recognizing the difficulty in determining whether COVID-19 was contracted while on the job, OSHA will not enforce its recordkeeping requirements that would require employers in areas where there is ongoing community transmission to make work-relatedness determinations for COVID-19 cases, except where:
This waiver of enforcement does not apply to employers in the healthcare industry, emergency response organizations (e.g., emergency medical, firefighting and law enforcement services), and correctional institutions in areas where there is ongoing community transmission. These employers must continue to make work-relatedness determinations.
This new guidance provides employers with one fewer issue to worry about in their response efforts to an employee with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Employers should continue to focus on minimizing the risk of transmission in the workplace.
As 2015 begins, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is sharpening its emphasis on inspecting and citing employers who violate its recordkeeping standard. This takes on greater importance because of the changes and new reporting requirements effective on January 1, 2015.
New OSHA Reporting Rules
Under the new rules, all employers are now required to contact OSHA within 24 hours following an occurrence of any in-patient hospitalizations, amputations, or loss of an eye, as well as the current requirement to contact OSHA within eight hours following a fatality. For reporting compliance, employers have three options when contacting OSHA: 1) call the nearest area office; 2) call OSHA’s 24-hour hotline 1-800-321-OSHA(6742); or 3) report online.
New Recordkeeping And Posting Requirements
Many new categories of employers must now maintain and post OSHA injury and illness records going forward. Employers who were already covered must complete and post their 2014 annual summary by February 1, 2015 and keep it posted until April 30, 2015. Employers must utilize the annual summary form (form 300A) to comply with the posting requirements. Even if you have no recordable injury or illness, you must still complete your 300 logs and post the 300A summary.
Below are some key details that are frequently misunderstood or overlooked which can lead to OSHA citations.
OSHA’s recordkeeping standard requires a certification of the 300A summary by a company executive. Four specific management officials may be considered “company executives” for purposes of certifying the 300A summary: 1) an owner of the company; 2) an officer of the corporation; 3) the highest-ranking company official working at the location; or 4) the immediate supervisor of the highest-ranking company official working at the location. This official must certify that he or she has reviewed the OSHA 300 logs and related records, and reasonably believes, based on knowledge of the process underlying the development of the data, that the posted summary is accurate and complete.
OSHA describes this requirement as imposing “senior management accountability” for the integrity and accuracy of the reported data. Human resources managers and safety directors normally cannot sign the OSHA 300A summary unless they are officers of the company.
Number Of Employees And Hours Worked
The annual summary requires employers to include a calculation of the annual average number of employees covered by the log and the total hours worked by all covered employees. The purpose of this requirement is to help employers compare the relative frequency of significant occupational injuries and illnesses at their workplace as compared to other establishments.
The 300A summary must be posted in each establishment in a conspicuous place or places where notices to employees are customarily posted. You are under a duty to ensure that the posted annual summary is not altered, defaced or obscured during the entire posting period.
Those employers who maintain these records in electronic form should still retain the signed posted summary after the February 1 to April 30 posting period, to prove that it was properly signed.
You should provide copies of the 300A summary to any employee who may not see the posted summary because they do not report to a fixed location on a regular basis. Even where an establishment has had no recordable injuries or illnesses, you must still post the 300A summary with zeros in the appropriate lines and certified by a company executive.
Before the annual summary is prepared, the recordkeeping rule imposes an express duty to review the log (form 300) to verify that entries are complete and accurate. Employers must review the records as “extensively as necessary” to ensure accuracy.
OSHA scrutinizes the forms 301, 300 and 300A for even minor errors in descriptions and boxes checked. Take time to review the forms for technical errors as well as to review accident reports, first aid logs and other related materials to ensure that all recordable incidents have been included and that records are consistent. Employers have a duty to update and maintain records for five years plus the current year and provide them upon request for inspection by OSHA investigators.
Newly Covered Employers
Finally, all employers who have previously been partially exempt from OSHA recordkeeping requirements and were not required to maintain the form 300, should review the updated industry exemption list to see if they are now covered. Under the new rule, 25 industries that were previously exempt are not, and must now maintain the OSHA 300 logs and other required documentations.