Process Safety Update: The Latest on EPA’s RMP and OSHA’s PSM Rulemakings

By Eric J. Conn, Micah Smith, and Beeta Lashkari

EPA RMP Public Hearing

This week, on September 26-28, 2022, EPA has been hosting virtual public hearings related to its Risk Management Program (RMP) rulemaking.  Specifically, the hearings are addressing the RMP Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention (SCCAP) proposed rule, which was signed by EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan on August 18, 2022, and proposes revisions to the RMP Rule to further protect vulnerable communities from chemical accidents, especially those living near facilities with high accident rates.  Per the EPA, “The proposed rule would strengthen the existing program and includes new safeguards that have not been addressed in prior RMP rules.”

The virtual public hearings will provide the opportunity to present information, comments or views pertaining to the SCCAP proposed rule.  In addition, EPA is accepting written comments during the public comment period, which closes on October 31, 2022.

For background, the RMP Rule has had a long and tortured rulemaking and litigation history.  EPA amended the RMP Rule on January 13, 2017, in the final days of the Obama Administration, following President Obama’s Executive Order (EO) 13650, “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security,” which directed EPA and other federal agencies to modernize policies, regulations, and standards to enhance safety and security in chemical facilities.  More details on the EO in the “OSHA PSM Stakeholder Meeting” section below.

EPA then received three petitions for reconsideration of the 2017 rule, and in December 2019, EPA issued a final rule reconsidering the changes made in January 2017.  There are petitions for judicial review of both the 2017 amendments and the 2019 reconsideration rules.  Specifically, the 2019 reconsideration rule challenges are being held in abeyance until October 3, 2022, by which time the parties must submit motions to govern, and the case against the 2017 amendments rule is in abeyance pending resolution of the 2019 reconsideration rule case.

So far as the SCCAP proposed rule is concerned, EPA issued a Continue reading

U.S. Chemical Safety Board Issues Guidance to Clarify its Accidental Release Reporting Rule

By Beeta Lashkari, Eric J. Conn, and Micah Smith

Earlier this month, on September 1, 2022, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) announced the release of a new guidance document about the agency’s still-relatively new Accidental Release Reporting Rule.  The Accidental Release Reporting Rule, which went into effect in March 2020, requires owners and operators of stationary sources to report accidental releases that result in a fatality, a serious injury, or substantial property damage to the CSB within eight hours. Just a few months ago, the CSB published its first list of incidents that had been reported to the agency pursuant to the rule.

Of the new guidance document, CSB Interim Executive Steve Owens said:

“Our goal is to make sure that owners and operators report chemical releases to the CSB as required by law. While many companies already have been complying with the rule and submitting their required reports, this guidance should help resolve any uncertainties about the reporting requirement. If someone is unsure about what to do, they should report, rather than risk violating the rule.”

The new guidance has been a long time coming. Indeed, the agency Continue reading

CSB Releases Accidental Release Reporting Rule Data

By Darius Rohani-Shukla and Beeta B. Lashkari

Last month, the Chemical Safety Board (“CSB”) published its first list of incidents that had been reported to the agency pursuant to its Accidental Release Reporting Rule.

The CSB’s Reporting Rule was published in the Federal Register on February 21, 2020, and took effect a month later, on March 23, 2020.  As we previously reported, the rule requires that owners and operators of stationary sources report accidental releases that result in a fatality, serious injury, or substantial property damage to the CSB within eight hours.  That accidental release report must indicate:

  1. The name and contact information for the owner/operator;
  2. The name and contact information for the person making the report;
  3. The location information and facility identifier;
  4. The approximate time of the accidental release;
  5. A brief description of the accidental release;
  6. An indication whether one or more of the following has occurred:
    • (1) Fire;
    • (2) Explosion;
    • (3) Death;
    • (4) Serious injury; or
    • (5) Property damage.

Continue reading

OSHA Launches an Enforcement National Emphasis Program For Outdoor and Indoor Heat Illness Prevention

By Beeta Lashkari and Eric Conn

Last week, on April 12, 2022, OSHA announced that it has launched an enforcement National Emphasis Program (“NEP”) for Outdoor and Indoor Heat-Related Hazards.  The Heat Illness NEP applies to both indoor and outdoor workplaces, including general industry, construction, maritime, and agriculture.  The NEP is already in effect – as of April 8th – even before OSHA made its April 12th announcement, and will remain in effect for three years unless canceled or extended by a superseding directive.

Secretary of Labor Walsh, joined by Vice President Harris, announced this new enforcement program at a speech at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 Training Center in Philadelphia with these remarks:

“Tragically, the three-year average of workplace deaths caused by heat has doubled since the early 1990s. These extreme heat hazards aren’t limited to outdoor occupations, the seasons or geography. From farm workers in California to construction workers in Texas and warehouse workers in Pennsylvania, heat illness – exacerbated by our climate’s rising temperatures – presents a growing hazard for millions of workers….  This enforcement program is another step towards our goal of a federal heat standard. Through this work, we’re also empowering workers with knowledge of their rights, especially the right to speak up about their safety without fear of retaliation.”

Below is an analysis of the mechanics of OSHA’s Heat Illness NEP: Continue reading

Washington’s New Safety Standard for Protecting Temporary Workers

By Aaron R. Gelb & Beeta B. Lashkari

Last Spring, Washington governor Jay Inslee signed into law Substitute House Bill (SHB) 1206, creating new duties for staffing agencies and worksite employers to protect the safety of temporary workers.  The law, codified at Revised Code of Washington (“RCW”) 49.17.490, went into effect on July 25, 2021, but received scant attention from the media or safety professionals—no doubt, in large part, due to an ongoing focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.  Nonetheless, given the extent to which many employers rely on temporary workers to staff their operations, this new law is one that covered employers should pay attention to and develop a plan to help ensure compliance.  Below is a summary of the scope and requirements of the new standard, as well best practice tips for covered employers.

Who Is Covered by the New Standard?

The new standard generally applies to staffing agencies and worksite employers, as defined by the standard:

  • A “staffing agency” is an employer as defined in Chapter 49.17 of the RCW and North American industry classification system (NAICS) 561320 and means an organization that recruits and hires its own employees and temporarily assigns those employees to perform work or services for another organization, under such other organization’s supervision, to:
    • (i) [s]upport or supplement the other organization’s workforce;
    • (ii) provide assistance in special work situations including, but not limited to, employee absences, skill shortages, or seasonal workloads; or
    • (iii) perform special assignments or projects.
  • “Worksite employer” is an employer as defined in Chapter 49.17 of the RCW and means an individual, company, corporation, or partnership with which a staffing agency contracts or otherwise agrees to furnish persons for temporary employment in the industries described in sectors 23 and 31 through 33 of the North American industry classification system.

Importantly, per the definition of “worksite employer” Continue reading

New York City Private Employer Vaccine Mandate Will Continue Under New Administration

By Dan C. Deacon

New York City employers finally have some clarity about whether the New York City private employer hard vaccine mandate will survive the transition from Mayor de Blasio to Mayor-Elect Eric Adams, and will be enforced under the new Administration.  Late last week, on December 30th, Mayor-Elect Eric Adams announced that he will keep Mayor de Blasio’s private-sector vaccine mandate in place, which took effect earlier this week – on Monday, December 27th, but with a focus on compliance – not punishment.  He also noted that the city will promptly analyze whether the mandate, along with other NYC vaccine requirements, will need to be updated to include obligatory booster doses in lieu of two vaccine shots, according to Adams’ winter coronavirus agenda passed out to reporters Thursday morning.

As outlined in our prior communication about the NYC mandate below (and in this blog article), beginning December 27, 2021, workers are required to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to a covered entity before entering the workplace, and a covered entity must exclude from the workplace any worker who has not provided such proof, unless they are provided an accommodation for a disability or religious reason.

A “Covered entity” means a non-governmental entity that employs more than one worker in New York City or maintains a workplace in New York City; or a self-employed individual or a sole practitioner who works at a workplace or Continue reading

New York HERO Act: COVID-19 Designation as Highly Contagious Communicable Disease Extended Until October 31, 2021

As we previously reported, on September 6, 2021, the New York State Commissioner of Health issued a designation determining COVID-19 to be “a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health in New York State.”  Such designation triggered requirements on employers to activate their airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plans in accordance with the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (“HERO Act”).

The New York State Department of Labor (“NYDOL”) issued the HERO Act Standards and model plan, which set forth the minimum requirements employers must provide to address exposure to airborne infectious diseases in the workplace.  As explained in our prior blog post, those requirements include:

  • employee health screenings;
  • employee face coverings;
  • personal protective equipment;
  • workplace hand hygiene stations and protocols, which includes adequate break times for employees to wash their hands;
  • cleaning and disinfecting shared equipment and frequently touched surfaces and high-risk areas;
  • social distancing;
  • complying with mandatory or precautionary orders of isolation or quarantine issued to employees;
  • air flow, exhaust ventilation, or other special engineering design requirements;
  • designation of one or more supervisors with the responsibility to ensure compliance with the prevention plan and any applicable federal, state, or local laws, rules, or guidance on preventing the spread of an airborne infectious disease;
  • notice to employees; and
  • verbal review of the infectious disease standard, employer policies, and employee rights under the NY HERO Act.

Employers were required to adopt a model plan Continue reading

NY State Health Commissioner Designates COVID-19 as a Highly Contagious Disease That Presents Serious Risk, Prompting Employers’ HERO Act Plans to be Activated

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On Labor Day, the New York State Commissioner of Health designated COVID-19 as a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to public health.  Under the New York HERO Act, employers must either adopt the New York State Department of Labor’s (“NYDOL”) model prevention plan or develop and establish an alternative prevention plan that equals or exceeds the requirements in the NYDOL’s model plan.

The NYDOL issued the HERO Act Standards and model plan, which set forth the minimum requirements employers must provide to address exposure to airborne infectious diseases in the workplace, on July 7, 2021.  As explained in our prior blog post, those requirements include:

  • employee health screenings;
  • employee face coverings;
  • personal protective equipment;
  • workplace hand hygiene stations and protocols, which includes adequate break times for employees to wash their hands;
  • cleaning and disinfecting shared equipment and frequently touched surfaces and high-risk areas;
  • social distancing;
  • complying with mandatory or precautionary orders of isolation or quarantine issued to employees;
  • air flow, exhaust ventilation, or other special engineering design requirements;
  • designation of one or more supervisors with the responsibility to ensure compliance with the prevention plan and any applicable federal, state, or local laws, rules, or guidance on preventing the spread of an airborne infectious disease;
  • notice to employees; and
  • verbal review of the infectious disease standard, employer policies, and employee rights under the NY HERO Act.

Employers were required to adopt a model plan or develop an individualized plan that met the Act’s requirements by August 5, 2021 and to provide the plan to employees by September 4, 2021.  Implementation of the plan, however, is only required whenever the Commissioner of Health designates an airborne infectious disease as a highly contagious communicable disease that presents serious risk of harm to public health.  As such, implementation of HERO Act plans is a bit of a moving target that employers must constantly monitor.  With total cases reaching an all-time low during the pandemic earlier this summer, the NYDOL clarified that the Commissioner of Health had not (yet) designated COVID-19 as such a disease, thus making the HERO Act Standards unenforceable.  That decision, however, has since changed as the highly transmissible Delta variant rages on and over 97% of US counties are now at substantial or high levels of community transmission.

Since the Commissioner of Health has made a designation, employers must now activate their written airborne infectious disease plans.  The HERO Act Standards detail additional steps employers must take when implementing their airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plan, including immediately reviewing their current plan; updating the plan to incorporate current information, guidance and any mandatory requirements, as appropriate; and finalizing the plan.  Employers are also required to conduct a “verbal review” of the plan’s protocols and employee rights under the Act, which is akin to a training requirement.  Finally, employers must distribute the plans to employees, post a copy of the plan in the workplace, and ensure that a copy of the plan is accessible during all work shifts.

Although it is unclear whether employers will be provided some leeway/time to ensure that their plans are reviewed, updated, and implemented in the workplace, employers should promptly take steps to comply with the Act.  As the Delta variant continues to surge throughout America, there will almost certainly be updated guidance regarding these plans from the NYDOL in the near future.

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: Everything You Need to Know

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We know that many of our friends in the healthcare industry are knee-deep analyzing Fed OSHA’s new COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) and making adjustments to COVID-19 protocols and programs to quickly come into compliance with this onerous new regulation.  Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Taskforce has carefully reviewed all 1,000+ pages of the ETS, its Preamble, and the rest of the supporting documentation, and has participated in several discussions with senior leadership at OSHA about thorny provisions of the rule, so we have a good understanding of what is required.  To help you understand precisely what is required of your covered facilities, and to assist with compliance implementation, we have prepared summaries of all the major requirements of the ETS below.

Hazard Assessments and COVID-19 Plans

One of the first steps employers must take is to conduct a hazard assessment of your operations to determine those areas where risk of virus transmission exists, and to then develop a response plan for dealing with those risks.  The hazard assessment findings and your plans for transmission mitigation must be incorporated into a written COVID-19 Plan.  Here is a summary of the ETS requirements for conducting the hazard assessment and preparing a written plan.

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(c) requires all employers covered by the ETS to develop and implement a COVID-19 Plan for each workplace.  If the employer has more than 10 employees, the Plan must be written.  This summary describes the requirements associated with the COVID-19 Plan.

Before developing the Plan, employers must conduct a workplace specific hazard assessment for the purpose of identifying and understanding where potential COVID-19 hazards exist and what controls must be implemented to reduce those hazards.  Employers must inspect the entire workplace and the hazard assessment should: Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Health Screening and Medical Management

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Today’s topic on the Fed OSHA COVID-19 ETS is health screening and medical management.

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(l) sets forth employee screening, employer/employee notification, medical removal, medical removal protection benefits, and return-to-work requirements.  This summary describes those requirements of the ETS.

A. Employee Screening

Employers have discretion in choosing whether to implement self-monitoring and/or in-person screening.  Employers who choose to have employees self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms can assist employees in that effort by providing them with a short fact sheet to remind them of the symptoms of concern.  Employers may also consider posting a sign stating that any employee entering the workplace certifies that they do not have symptoms of COVID-19, to reinforce the obligation to self-screen before entering the workplace.

Employers who choose to conduct in-person employee screening for COVID-19 symptoms may use methods such as temperature checks and asking the employee if they are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19.  Employers should conduct this screening before employees come into contact with others in the workplace, such as co-workers, patients, or visitors.

To the extent employers choose to conduct onsite screening, there are important safety considerations to take into account.  Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Training

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Today’s topic on the Fed OSHA COVID-19 ETS is training.

Training:

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(n) requires that all employers covered by the ETS provide training to their employees.  To the extent that the employer has already provided training and that training is compliant with the standard, the employer does not need to re-train employees.  This summary describes the training requirements of the ETS.

If the employer has already provided training related to COVID-19, but the previous training did not cover all the elements required by the ETS, the employer must offer training on the elements it had not previously addressed.

As with other OSHA standards, the training required by the ETS must be administered at a literacy level and in a language employees understand.  The trainer must be a person knowledgeable in the topics covered by the training and how they apply to the employee’s specific job tasks.  Additionally, the training should be interactive, providing an opportunity for interactive questions and answers.  An employer may satisfy the interactive requirement even if the employer offers a virtual training if the employer makes available a qualified trainer to address questions after the training or offers a telephone hotline where employees may ask questions.

The training must be designed to allow employees to understand the following: Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Ventilation

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Today’s topic on the Fed OSHA COVID-19 ETS is ventilation.

Ventilation

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(k) establishes ventilation requirements for covered facilities.  This summary describes the standard’s requirements for ventilation.

The ventilation provisions of the ETS do not require employers to purchase new HVAC systems or to reconfigure existing duct work to comply with the standard.  Rather, employers are required simply to increase indoor ventilation to the maximum extent possible on existing systems. New filtration equipment may be required, however, depending on the existing air filters in an HVAC system.

OSHA ventilation requirements are based on the concern that, without adequate ventilation, continued exhalation can cause the amount of infectious smaller droplets and particles produced by people with COVID-19 to become concentrated enough in the air to spread the virus to other people.  OSHA explained in the preamble that the more outdoor air the HVAC system is capable of drawing into the building, the greater the impact may be on limiting the potential for the virus to accumulate.

Accordingly, the ETS establishes five main requirements that employers who own or control buildings or structures with an existing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system(s) must follow to comply with the ETS: Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Vaccination, and Patient Screening & Management

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Today’s topics on the Fed OSHA COVID-19 ETS are vaccination, and patient screening and management.

Vaccination

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(m) requires that all employers covered by the ETS support COVID-19 vaccination for each employee.  This summary describes the vaccination requirements of the ETS.

To support COVID-19 vaccination, employers must provide to their employees:

    • reasonable time during work hours for employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, and
    • paid leave for employees to receive vaccinations and any side effects experienced following vaccination (to the extent these occur during regular work hours).

“Reasonable time” may include, but is not limited to: Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Face Masks, Respiratory Protection and Other PPE

Today’s topic on the Fed OSHA COVID-19 ETS is face masks, respiratory protection, and other personal protective equipment (“PPE”)…what is required and when.

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(f) of the ETS establishes the personal protective equipment (“PPE”), including respiratory protection, requirements that must be implemented at covered facilities.  This summary describes these requirements.

Face Masks

The standard does not mandate that all employees wear N95 or other higher-level respiratory protection at all times.  Rather, it allows employees who work at covered facilities but do not have exposures to suspected or confirmed COVID-19 persons to wear face masks, defined as “surgical, medical procedure, dental, or isolation mask[s] that [are] FDA-cleared, authorized by an FDA EUA, or offered or distributed as described in an FDA enforcement policy.”  Face masks must be worn on all employees indoors or when in a vehicle with another person (for work purposes).  The face masks must be provided at no cost to the employee, and the employer must ensure that employees change their masks at least once per day (or when they are soiled, damaged or for other patient-care related reasons).

Certain exceptions to the requirement to wear face masks are allowed under the ETS, including when employees:

  • Are alone in a room
  • Are eating or drinking (and remain 6 feet from others or are separated by a physical barrier)
  • Have a medical condition, disability or religious beliefs that prevents use
  • Would risk serious injury or death by their use (in other words, where mask use poses a greater hazard)
  • Need to see another’s mouth when communicating (e.g., deaf employees)

In the above situations (except when alone or eating/drinking), the employer must ensure that employees are provided with and use Continue reading

Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard Survives Two Legal Challenges

By Andrew Sommer, Eric Conn, and Beeta Lashkari

On February 25, 2021, Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman officially ruled on two requests for preliminary injunctions against the implementation of Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS), denying the injunctive relief sought in both cases.

Two separate legal challenges to the ETS were filed a couple of weeks after the rule was adopted by the Cal/OSHA Standards Board.  The first was filed by the National Retail Federation and others, alleging generally that an emergency rule was not necessary and appropriate; i.e., the agency had not asserted facts adequate to establish the existence of an emergency, and therefore, the rushed rulemaking process that ignored stakeholder input was not lawful.  It also alleged that Cal/OSHA overstepped its jurisdictional authority with respect to the ETS provisions mandating wage and benefits continuation.

The second legal challenge was filed by the Western Growers Association and other agricultural interests.  This lawsuit similarly challenged the legality of an emergency rule in this context and the pay and benefits provisions.  It also attacked the provisions regarding employer-provided housing and transportation.

In a 40-page order, Judge Schulman rejected all of the plaintiffs’ arguments, commenting, “No federal or state court in the country has blocked emergency public health orders intended to curb the spread of COVID-19, and the illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths that follow in its wake.  This Court will not be the first.  Lives are at stake.”  Indeed, the cases faced long odds, with Judge Schulman Continue reading

President-Elect Biden Announces Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as his Choice for Secretary of Labor

By: Kara M. Maciel, Eric J. Conn, and Beeta B. Lashkari

On January 7, 2021, President-elect Joe Biden announced his much-awaited choice for nominee to serve as Secretary of Labor, selecting Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.  Mayor Walsh made his mark as a labor leader, ultimately heading the Building and Construction Trades Council from 2011 to 2013.   Mr. Walsh was also a full-time legislator, serving in the Massachusetts state legislature for some 17 years before being elected mayor in 2014.Picture1

If confirmed, it is expected that Mayor Walsh’s close personal friendship with President-elect Biden will elevate the importance of the Labor Department in President Biden’s cabinet, allowing a Secretary Walsh significant influence in the Administration.

Mayor Walsh’s strong ties to organized labor and his selection follows through on President-elect Biden’s campaign promise to give unions a stronger voice in labor policy in his Administration. Mayor Walsh has a reputation as a “pragmatic deal maker,” and he is respected in Massachusetts by both business and labor for his reasonable approach to solving labor and employment issues facing the state.

Of the many issues likely to be tackled by the Labor Department over the next few years, one of the first and most impactful will be the likely issuance of a federal COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard by OSHA.  President-elect Biden has pledged to have OSHA quickly address this issue.  If a federal ETS is promulgated, it would replace the current Administration’s approach, which has relied heavily on CDC and agency guidance, as well as existing OSHA standards, like the respiratory protection standard and recordkeeping rules, to issue citations.  With respect to COVID-19, under Mayor Walsh’s leadership, the City of Boston implemented a Continue reading

What Employers Need to Know About Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccines

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

With the availability of a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine edging closer and closer, employers understandably have a number of questions regarding their role in the workplace – whether and when they can require a vaccination, what exceptions are required in a mandatory vaccination program, and whether they should require (as opposed to encourage and facilitate) the COVID-19 vaccine for employees once it becomes available. 

This summer, the World Health Organization reported that nearly 200 potential vaccines were currently being developed in labs across the world, and as of mid-October, disclosed that more than 40 had advanced to clinical stage testing on humans.  Drug manufacturers estimate that a vaccine will be ready and approved for general use by the end of this year, although logistically not ready for widespread distribution until mid-2021.

Indeed, just over the past couple of weeks, Pfizer and Moderna have made promising announcements regarding the results of their clinical trials.  Namely, on Monday, November 9, 2020, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that a vaccine candidate against COVID-19 achieved success in the firm interim analysis from the Phase 3 study.  The vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in participants without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in the first interim efficacy analysis.  According to the announcement, submission for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planned for soon after the required safety milestone is achieved, which is currently expected to occur this week.  Additionally, as reported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on November 16, 2020, there have been promising interim results from a clinical trial of a NIH-Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.  An independent data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) reported that the vaccine candidate was safe and well-tolerated and noted a vaccine efficacy rate of 94.5%.

As the reality of a vaccination nears, employers are inquiring whether they can and should mandate the vaccine for their employees.

  1. Can Employers Require Employees to Take the COVID-19 Vaccine?

As a threshold matter, it should be noted that according to a member of the federal advisory panel on immunizations that will be making recommendations to the CDC on who should get the first doses, vaccines authorized under the FDA’s emergency use authority, as these COVID-19 vaccinations will be at the start, cannot be mandated.  Any COVID-19 vaccine brought to market under an EUA instead of the normal non-emergency approval process will, by necessity, lack long term safety data.

In general though, outside the context of EUA vaccine, employers can require vaccination as a term and condition of employment, but such practice is not without limitations, nor is it always recommended.  Although the issue is only now coming to the forefront because of COVID-19, mandatory vaccinations in the workplace are not new, and have been particularly prevalent among healthcare providers for decades.  Some variability exists under federal law and among federal agencies, but for the most part, mandatory vaccination programs are permissible, as long as employers consider religious accommodation requests under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and medical accommodation requests under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Continue reading

CDC Guidance for Retail and Service Industries on Workplace Violence Associated with COVID-19 Policies

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

In recent months, we have heard too many stories and seen too many viral videos about retail clerks and restaurant employees facing violent attacks and threats from belligerent anti-mask customers who have been refused service or otherwise asked to adhere to the mask mandates issued by the Governors or Health Departments in their states.  This includes the tragic tale of the store security guard who was shot and killed in Michigan after telling a customer at a discount store to wear a state-mandated face mask.

Responding to the surge in workplace violence faced by retailers and others in the service industries, on September 1, 2020, the CDC issued guidance on Limiting Workplace Violence Associated with COVID-19 Prevention Policies in Retail and Services Businesses.  The new guidance covers how to manage the threat of violence from customers or others who are asked to comply with Governors’ or Health Department mandates or the businesses’ own infection control policies, such as requiring masks to be worn by customers, asking customers to follow social distancing rules, and setting limits on the number of customers allowed inside at one time.  Specifically, the guidance discourages retailers from becoming the enforcer in these situations, and includes recommendations like calling 911 and not arguing with a customer who refuses to comply with the rules. 

This guidance is vital as we have seen the opposite instruction from such governmental agencies as Michigan OSHA (“MIOSHA”), Oregon OSHA (“OR OSHA”), and the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau (“NMOHSB”).  Indeed, those state OSH Programs have been issuing citations and shutdown orders for retailers and restaurants who do not refuse service to customers unwilling to wear a face covering onsite.  CDC’s guidance will hopefully force these agencies to be sensible about the terrible dilemma they are forcing on businesses and their front line employees who feel the brunt of these enforcement policies that would turn them into law enforcement. Continue reading

OSHA and FDA Issue COVID-19 Checklist for Food Industry Workplaces

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On August 19, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a detailed checklist for human and animal food manufacturers to consider when continuing, resuming or reevaluating operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The stated purpose of the new guidance document is “for FDA-regulated human and animal food operations to use when assessing operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when re-starting operations after a shut down or when reassessing operations because of changes due to the COVID-19 public health emergency caused by the virus SARS-CoV.”

The checklist is intended to guide employers who grow, harvest, pack, manufacture, process or hold human and animal food regulated by FDA, and covers nearly every (if not every) topic related to COVID-19 including:

  • Employee health screenings;
  • Operation configuration for social distancing;
  • Recommended engineering controls (e.g., physical barriers and adequate ventilation);
  • Communication and training;
  • Signage;
  • Coordination with public health officials;
  • Exposure scenarios and return-to-work criteria;
  • Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette;
  • Flexible sick leave policies;
  • Cleaning/disinfecting; and
  • PPE and face coverings.

The checklist also includes some more topics somewhat unique to the food industry, such as:

  • Shared/communal housing;
  • Recommendations for critical infrastructure workers;
  • Social distancing configurations for harvesting and along production lines; and
  • Process Safety Management considerations for facilities with ammonia refrigeration systems that may have been shut down. 
Continue reading

CDC Revises its COVID-19 Return-to-Work Criteria, Again

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On July 20, 2020, the U.S. Centers Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) made major revisions to its COVID-19 “discontinue home isolation” guidance, upon which employers may rely to determine when it is safe for employees to return to work.  This comes only a couple months after CDC made major revisions to the same guidance document when, on May 3, 2020, it extended the home isolation period from 7 to 10 days since symptoms first appeared for the symptom-based strategy in persons with COVID-19 who have symptoms, and from 7 to 10 days after the date of their first positive test for the time-based strategy in asymptomatic persons with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19.

In its most recent update, Picture1CDC has determined that a test-based strategy is no longer recommended to determine when to discontinue home isolation, except in certain circumstances.  It has also modified its symptom-based strategy in part by changing the number of hours that must pass since last fever without the use of fever-reducing medication from “at least 72 hours” to “at least 24 hours.”  CDC’s revisions should trigger employers to immediately revise their COVID-19 preparedness, response, and control plans to account for the latest changes.  In light of the recent COVID-19 regulation that Virginia promulgated almost at the same time that CDC decided to update its guidance, the revisions also demonstrate that COVID-19 is not the type of hazard easily subject to a regulatory standard.

Revised Guidance

To start, it is important to understand the major changes that CDC has just made.  As you know, prior to CDC’s most recent changes, CDC offered individuals with COVID-19 who had symptoms two options for discontinuing home isolation:

  1. a symptom-based strategy; and
  2. a test-based strategy.

It also offered individuals with COVID-19 who never showed symptoms two options:

  1. a time-based strategy; and
  2. a test-based strategy.

With its most recent update, CDC has essentially eliminated Continue reading

OSHA Releases COVID-19 Guidance for the Oil and Gas Industry

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Continuing its effort to issue numerous industry-specific COVID-19 guidance documents, last week OSHA released guidance for the Oil and Gas Industry to help employers manage the COVID-19 hazard in oil and gas workplaces.  Picture1The  new guidance builds on existing CDC and/or OSHA guidance that we have seen for all employers or from other industry-specific guidance, and adds in a few oil and gas specific recommendations.

To start, OSHA makes clear that the guidance is geared towards oil and gas industry workers and employers, including those in sub-industries and tasks that make up the broader oil and gas sector.  In that regard, OSHA provides a table that describes oil and gas work tasks associated with the exposure risk levels in OSHA’s occupational exposure risk pyramid, which divides tasks into four risk exposure categories – very high, high, medium, and lower (caution).  Specifically, OSHA groups most oil and gas work tasks in the lower (caution) and medium exposure risk levels.

For the medium exposure risk level category, OSHA includes:

  1. oil and gas drilling, servicing, production, distribution, and/or processing tasks that require frequent close contact (within 6 feet) with coworkers, contractors, customers, or the general public; and
  2. traveling within facilities or between facilities when workers must share vehicles.

For the first group of tasks, OSHA notes that control rooms, trailers and doghouses are frequent high-traffic areas.  The Agency also includes a general note that working and living together in close quarters where social distancing is not always feasible may increase exposure risk compared to other activities in the medium exposure risk category. Continue reading

Cal/OSHA Establishes a Presumption of Work Relatedness in new COVID-19 Recording and Reporting Guidance

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we previously reported, in early April, the Head of Cal/OSHA, Division Chief Doug Parker, provided feedback about Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Recordkeeping and Reporting expectations.  The signal to employers back then was that Cal/OSHA would be following Federal OSHA’s guidance on when employers must record COVID-19 cases on their 300 Logs, and that is not very often.

Just last week, however, Cal/OSHA issued a new set of COVID-19 Recordkeeping and Reporting FAQs, indicating that it has changed course from Division Chief Parker’s April letter.  This move comes only a few days after Fed OSHA reversed course with respect to its own COVID-19 Recordkeeping and Reporting guidance.Cal-OSHA RK FAQS

To be clear, while Fed OSHA’s latest COVID-19 Recordkeeping guidance does retreat from some of the early relief OSHA had offered employers, in substance, it merely changes the landscape around the edges — requiring more employers to analyze work-relatedness for COVID-19 cases.  Still fed OSHA only requires recording or reporting COVID-19 cases where it is “more likely than not” that a COVID-19 case resulted from workplace exposure, based on reasonably available evidence, and the absence of any alternative (non-work) explanation for the employee’s illness.

Among other stark differences, Cal/OSHA’s new guidance flips the burden of establishing work-relatedness on its head.  Now, according to Cal/OSHA, a COVID-19 case in California will be presumed to be work-related if any workplace exposure is identified, even if the cause of the illness is more likely attributable to a non-workplace exposure.

Confirmed Case

Unlike Fed OSHA’s previous and current recordkeeping guidance, Cal/OSHA’s FAQs now make clear that Cal/OSHA does NOT require a positive test for COVID-19 to be necessary to trigger recording requirements.  Cal/OSHA states: Continue reading

Cal/OSHA Guidance Regarding COVID-19 in the Workplace

By Andrew Sommer, Megan Shaked, and Beeta Lashkari

Last week, Cal/OSHA updated its website, providing additional guidance on how to protect Californian employee from spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.  Additionally, earlier this week, Division Chief Doug Parker sent an unpublished letter, clarifying Cal/OSHA’s recording/reporting requirements for coronavirus-related illnesses.  Below is a summary of both pieces of guidance from Cal/OSHA:

Additional Cal/OSHA Guidance on COVID-19 in the Workplace

Starting with the new guidance on its website, Cal/OSHA provided additional information on how to protect workers from COVID-19.  While Cal/OSHA previously issued guidance on requirements under its Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (“ATD”) standard specific to COVID-19, as well as general guidelines, it has now released industry-specific guidance and ATD model plans.  The industry-specific guidance includes:

The ATD model plans are fillable pages provided in Word format and include an exposure control plan, laboratory biosafety plan, and “referring employer” model written program.

Picture1As general guidance, Cal/OSHA’s website also includes interim guidelines for general industry on COVID-19.  These interim guidelines make clear that, for employers covered by the ATD standard, employers must protect employees from airborne infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and pathogens transmitted by aerosols.  The ATD standard applies to:

  1. hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, clinics, medical offices, outpatient medical facilities, home health care, long-term health care facilities, hospices, medical outreach services, medical transport and emergency medical services;
  2. certain laboratories, public health services and police services that are reasonably anticipated to expose employees to an aerosol transmissible disease;
  3. correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and drug treatment programs; and
  4. any other locations when Cal/OSHA informs employers in writing that they must comply with the ATD standard.

Additionally, for employers NOT covered by the ATD standard, Cal/OSHA advises employers to Continue reading

Pres. Trump’s Latest Effort to Limit Federal Agency Guidance – Two New Executive Orders

By Eric J. Conn and Beeta B. Lashkari

Late last year, on October 9, 2019, President Trump issued two Executive Orders (“EOs”) that could have a dramatic impact on the way OSHA and other executive agencies operate:

  1. Executive Order 13891, the Executive Order on Promoting the Rule of Law Through Improved Agency Guidance Documents (Guidance Documents EO); and
  2. Executive Order 13892, the Executive Order on Promoting the Rule of Law Through Transparency and Fairness in Civil Administrative Enforcement and Adjudication (Transparency EO).

These EOs were designed to, according to the President:

“protect Americans from out-of-control bureaucracy and stop regulators from imposing secret rules and hidden penalties on the American people. . .”

In a nutshell, the Guidance Documents EO mandates that the public be provided with an opportunity to comment on proposed guidance and interpretive documents (similar to what is required under the Administrative Procedures Act for rulemaking).  It requires notice and publication of guidance, and the creation of a comprehensive online database where all such guidance must be housed and easily searched.

The Transparency EO focuses on agency enforcement actions.  Most significantly, it requires agencies to provide all parties potentially subject to an enforcement action the opportunity to engage with the agency over the merits of the action prior to commencement of the enforcement action. It also:

  1. prevents agencies from enforcing standards that are not public and that would cause unfair surprise to the regulated entity (i.e., no enforcement relying on guidance documents that are not created and maintained pursuant to the Guidance Documents EO);
  2. requires the publication of any potential new or expanded jurisdiction in the Federal Register;
  3. mandates the development of procedures for encouraging voluntary self-reporting in exchange for penalty reductions; and
  4. requires that agencies adhere to standards in the Paperwork Reduction Act when asking regulated parties for information without a formal subpoena or investigative demand.

The two new Executive Orders align with the President’s business-friendly agenda, making it more difficult for regulators to engage in backdoor rulemaking (i.e., supplementing or changing regulations via the issuance of guidance documents developed without public input), and easier for businesses to keep track of the regulatory requirements with which they must comply, and to head off enforcement actions before they begin.

How will the Executive Orders change the OSH regulatory landscape, and what should employers expect next? Continue reading

BREAKING – CSB Issues Final Accidental Release Reporting Rule

By Eric J. Conn and Beeta Lashkari

Last week, on the day of a federal district court-mandated deadline — Wednesday, February 5, 2020 — the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (the CSB) announced its Final Rule on Accidental Release Reporting. The CSB posted a prepublication version of the Final Rule last week, on February 5th.  The official version should be published in the Federal Register within the next few days.

As we previously reported, on December 12, 2019, the CSB issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for its new reporting rule, which set out the circumstances when facility owners and operators are required to file reports with the CSB about certain accidental chemical releases and what must be communicated in the reports.Picture1

As stated in the NPRM, the purpose of the rule is “to ensure that the CSB receives rapid, accurate reports of any accidental release that meets established statutory criteria.”

The rule requires owners and operators of stationary sources to report accidental releases that result in a fatality, a serious injury, or substantial property damage to the CSB within eight hours.  The specific information required to be provided in the accidental release report includes:

  1. A brief description of the accidental release;
  2. Whether the release resulted in a fire, explosion, death, serious injury, or property damage;
  3. The number of fatalities and/or serious injuries, and the estimated property damage at or outside the stationary source;
  4. The name of the material involved;
  5. The amount of the release; and
  6. Whether the accidental release resulted in an evacuation order impacting members of the general public and other details associated with the evacuation.

Issuance of the CSB’s reporting rule has been a long time coming.  Although the CSB did not become operational until 1998, its enabling legislation – the Clean Air Act Amendments – was enacted in 1990.  That statute, from nearly thirty years ago, expressly required the agency to issue a rule governing the reporting of accidental releases to the CSB.  Although the CSB submitted an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Chemical Release Reporting in 2009, that effort died on the vine.  Accordingly, the CSB has never had its own reporting rule, relying instead on other sources to receive incident information.  In February 2019, however, Continue reading