Important COVID-19 Update: “Close Contact” Redefined to Mean 15 Cumulative Minutes

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We want to alert you to a significant COVID-19 development out of the CDC yesterday.  Specifically, the CDC just announced a material revision to its definition of “Close Contact.”  The new definition makes it explicit that the 15-minute exposure period (i.e., within 6-feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes) should be assessed based on a cumulative amount of time over 24 hours, not just a single, continuous 15-minute interaction.

Here is the new definition included on the CDC’s website:

Close Contact – Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period* starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

* Individual exposures added together over a 24-hour period (e.g., three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes). Data are limited, making it difficult to precisely define “close contact;” however, 15 cumulative minutes of exposure at a distance of 6 feet or less can be used as an operational definition for contact investigation. Factors to consider when defining close contact include proximity (closer distance likely increases exposure risk), the duration of exposure (longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk), whether the infected individual has symptoms (the period around onset of symptoms is associated with the highest levels of viral shedding), if the infected person was likely to generate respiratory aerosols (e.g., was coughing, singing, shouting), and other environmental factors (crowding, adequacy of ventilation, whether exposure was indoors or outdoors). Because the general public has not received training on proper selection and use of respiratory PPE, such as an N95, the determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory PPE.  At this time, differential determination of close contact for those using fabric face coverings is not recommended.​

CDC’s revised view of what constitutes a Close Contact is based on an exposure study at a correctional facility.  Here is the CDC’s public notice about the correctional facility analysis.  The analysis apparently revealed that virus was spread to a 20-year-old prison employee who interacted with individuals who later tested positive for the virus, after 22 interactions that took place over 17 minutes during an eight-hour shift.  

An important consequence of this revision is the impact it will have on employers’ ability to maintain staffing because it establishes a much lower threshold trigger for required quarantine.  Recall that

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[Bonus Webinar] Michigan OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Rule

On Thursday, October 29, 2020 at 11 AM Eastern / 10 AM Central, join Eric J. Conn and Aaron R. Gelb for a bonus webinar event: Michigan OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Rule.

When the MI Supreme Court struck down Gov. Whitmer’s COVID-19 Executive Orders, MI OSHA responded quickly to fill the void, and last week issued a series of COVID-19 Emergency Regulations. When Gov. Whitmer signed the “Emergency Rules Order,” Michigan became only the second state in the country with a set of enforceable, COVID-19 specific regulations. While many of the requirements set forth in the new rules mirror the Governor’s prior EOs, having a prescriptive rule in place makes it that much easier for MI OSHA to issue citations to employers.

Given MI OSHA’s aggressive use of the General Duty Clause to support a series of citations after an inspection blitz over the summer, Michigan employers should expect enforcement to continue in a similar manner, making compliance with these rules all the more important.  Participants in this webinar will learn about the requirements of MIOSHA’s COVID-19 emergency rules and steps to take to avoid citations, including:

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MI OSHA is the 2nd State OSH Plan to Adopt a COVID-19 Emergency Rule: How to Comply in 5 (Not-So-Easy) Steps

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Reacting quickly to the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision striking down a series of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 Executive Orders, Michigan OSHA issued a series of COVID-19 emergency rules on October 14 to fill the void—many of which mirror the requirements imposed on employers by the Governor’s prior Executive Orders.  When Gov Whitmer signed the Emergency Rules Order, Michigan became only the second state in the country with a set of enforceable, COVID-19 specific regulation.

MIOSHA’s new COVID-19 emergency rules, which became effective immediately and which will remain in effect for 6 months, require employers to:

  • conduct workplace risk assessments for COVID-19 exposures;
  • develop a written exposure control plan; and
  • adopt a series of workplace protections.

“While most Michigan job providers are doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19, these rules provide them with clarity regarding the necessary requirements to keep their workplaces safe and their employees healthy,” said Gov. Whitmer. “I will continue to work around the clock with my partners in labor and business to ensure protections for every Michigan worker.”

Because MIOSHA’s rule uses pretty vague language and is lean on detail, the agency has already begun to issue FAQs explaining what some of the provisions of the rule mean.  Here is the first batch of FAQs:

While MIOSHA had already been aggressively citing employers under the General Duty Clause over the past few months, most of those citation directly referenced Gov. Whitmer’s now-invalidated COVID-19 Executive Orders. Michigan employers can now be cited for violating these specific regulations.  At the same time, however, Republican legislators have sent a series of bills to Governor Whitmer that include liability protections for employers that comply with MI OSHA guidelines, making compliance with these rules all the more important.

Employers with operations in Michigan wishing to avoid citations should take the following 5 steps  as soon as practically possible: (1) Assess; (2) Plan; (3) Protect; (4) train; and (5) document.

STEP 1:  Conduct Workplace Assessment & Make Exposure Determinations (ASSESS)

Employers must evaluate Continue reading

The Intersection of COVID-19, Americans with Disabilities Act, and Age Discrimination in Employment Act

By Ashley D. Mitchell

As the U.S. enters month seven of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers continue to grapple with how to keep employees safe without violating the rights of employees protected by the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has issued guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace encouraging employers to: (1) actively encourage sick employees to stay home; (2) conduct daily in person health checks such as temperature and symptom screenings; and (3) ensure that workers are able to follow social distancing guidelines as much as practicable and encouraging employees to wear face masks where social distancing is not possible. Employers should remain vigilant against enacting policies meant to keep employees safe but have a disparate impact on employees in a protected class.

The Americans with Disability Act

The Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against job applicants and/or employees with disabilities. If a job applicant or employee has a disability and requests an accommodation, employers must engage in an interactive process and are required to provide a reasonable accommodation to the extent it does not cause the employer undue hardship.

In the context of COVID-19, employers may screen employees entering the workplace for COVID-19 symptoms consistent with CDC guidance. For example, an employer may: (1) ask questions about COVID-19 diagnosis or testing, COVID-19 symptoms, and exposure to anyone with COVID-19 (but employers should be sure the question is broad and does not ask employees about specific family members so as not to run afoul of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”)); (2) take an employee’s temperature; and (3) administer COVID-19 viral tests (but not anti-body tests). If an employee is screened and has symptoms that the CDC has identified as consistent with COVID-19, the employer may – and indeed, should – exclude the employee from the workplace. It is also okay – and again, advisable – for an employer to send an employee home who reports feeling ill during the workday. 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

[Webinar] Technology Solutions for Complying with COVID-19 Requirements

On Tuesday, September 8th at 1 PM ET, join Eric J. Conn (Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice) and Nick Eurek (President and Co-Founder of Maptician) for a complimentary webinar regarding “Technology Solutions for Complying with COVID-19 Requirements.” 

In July, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory rule with a set of requirements designed to protect workers from COVID-19 infections in the workplace.  For example, Virginia employers must:

  • Assess and categorize potential exposures to COVID-19 in the workplace
  • Implement a written infection control and response plan
  • Promptly notify potentially exposed co-workers, VOSH/OSHA, and/or the Department of Health about infected workers

But Virginia’s rule really just memorializes the widespread, already enforceable guidance from federal OSHA, the CDC, state and local departments of health, and governors’ offices all across the country, so the policies and controls that must be implemented in Virginia are by and large needed everywhere.

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Update on Cal/OSHA’s Wildfire Smoke Rule

By Andrew Sommer and Fred Walter

In May of this year, Conn Maciel Carey’s OSHA Practice submitted comments to the Cal/OSH Standards Board on behalf of the Wildfire Smoke Rule Industry Coalition about the agency’s effort to make permanent what had been Emergency Temporary Standard to protect workers from the respiratory hazards of California wildfires.

Last month, the Cal/OSH Standards Board issued a 15-day Notice of Proposed Modifications to what would become the permanent wildfire smoke rule. The proposed changes are not major, mostly clarifying that one of the methods for determining the Air Quality Index for particulate matter 2.5 is the Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program.

Another change to be expected in the final rule is a revision to the Appendix B training instructions to address cleaning and maintenance of reusable respirators, purportedly to address critical shortages of N95 respirators exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. While anything that extends the supply of N95 masks is welcome, that change alone is not nearly enough to solve a massive compliance problem created by the rule. With the Wildfire Smoke Rule, DOSH requires workers exposed to wildfire smoke be supplied with N95 respirators, and it does not consider surgical masks to be acceptable substitutes. DOSH concedes that N95 respirators are generally not available to any but medical workers right now, but they have no recommended substitutes.

That was one of the primary points of emphasis in our coalition’s comments — the rule needed to include some flexibility around the requirement for employers to supply N95 respirator masks for all potentially affected workers. There were already problems with N95 shortages even before the COVID-19 pandemic, but now, the shortage is extreme, and with the CDC’s and OSHA’s recommendations that all supplies of N95s should be reserved for the healthcare industry obviously makes compliance with a a rigid N95 requirement for wildfire smoke protection impossible for most employers. Now in the midst of another wildfire season in California, employers are continuing to experience N95 shortages.

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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. 
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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

Michigan OSHA Launches COVID-19 Enforcement Emphasis Program Targeting Retail and Restaurants

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Over the course of the last month, several of our retail clients have been visited by Michigan OSHA (MIOSHA) for COVID-19 enforcement inspections in circumstances without an employee complaint or any self-reported work-related COVID-19 hospitalization or death.  The reason for these inspections, it turns out, is MIOSHA has launched a State Emphasis Program (SEP) on COVID-19 in Bars, Restaurants, Gas Stations, Grocery and Convenience Stores, and Other Retail.  We got our hands on the Directive for the Emphasis Program. Here’s a summary of what Michigan employers in those industries need to know about MIOSHA’s new enforcement strategy.

The Directive lays out MIOSHA’s approach for selecting various retail and hospitality workplaces for programmed inspections about COVID-19 infection control.

The stated purposes of the Emphasis Program is to “increase MIOSHA’s presence in retail establishments to ensure workers are protected from SARS-CoV-2,” because “employees who come in contact with large numbers of people as a result of their employment [like in retail] are at elevated risk of infection.”

The inspections are evaluating the employer’s adherence to Governor Whitmer’s Executive Orders for COVID-19, OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, and applicable CDC guidance for COVID-19.

The agency has created a targeting list of retail/hospitality businesses broken down as follows:

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Virginia OSHA Moves to Make Permanent Its New Infectious Disease Standard

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we have been updating you about here, on July 27th, the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSH) adopted a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS).  There are some important deadlines fast approaching under that new rule:

  1. Conduct a COVID-19 Hazard Assessment to categorize the risk exposures at the workplace (due by Aug. 26th);
  2. Deliver the first of two COVID-19 employee training events (due by Aug. 26th); and
  3. Implement a written infectious disease preparedness and response plan (due by Sept. 25th).

We have been helping our clients quickly get up to speed on the new emergency rule.  As part of that effort, we co-hosted a webinar with the head of VOSH’s Consultation Program and also prepared an FAQ document about the new rule.

But while everyone is scrambling to come into compliance with the emergency rule, we want to highlight another big development with the Virginia rule that has a fast-approaching deadline – that is, VOSH’s effort to prepare a permanent infectious disease standard.

The ETS is, of course, just a temporary standard, but by regulation, VOSH is required to commence a rulemaking to promulgate a permanent standard soon after issuing an ETS.  By publication of the ETS in July, VOSH simultaneously gave notice that the Standards Board intends to adopt a permanent infectious disease standard, and the ETS serves as the proposed rule.  Here is a link to the Proposed Permanent Standard for Infectious Disease Prevention.  The agency intends to finalize the permanent rule within six months, with an effective date no later than January 27, 2021.

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FAQs About Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard

On August 3rd, Eric J. Conn (Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice), Susan Wilcox (a CIH and CSP with Virginia-based Safety Resource Associates), and special guest Jennifer Rose (Director of Cooperative Programs at VOSH) presented a webinar: “Everything You Need to Know About Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard.VOSH FAQs

During the webinar, we collected numerous questions from participants about VOSH’s new COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard.  We have compiled all of those questions from the webinar into this written Q&A document with our answers and useful links throughout.  These FAQs have also been incorporated into our broader compendium of COVID-19 FAQs on Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force Resource Page.

We are also pleased to share these links to a copy of the slides and a recording of the webinar, as well as our article here on the OSHA Defense Report blog about the lay of the land around VOSH’s new rule.  And below is a brief recap of the program.

Last month, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory safety regulation designed to reduce COVID-19 infections in the workplace, when Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam announced the commonwealth’s adoption of an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”). The COVID-19 ETS, which was drafted by Virginia’s Department of Labor and Industry, requires Virginia employers to: Continue reading

Coalition for Uniformity in COVID-19 Recordkeeping Advocates for Cal/OSHA to Realign its Requirements

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we previously reported, in late May, Cal/OSHA issued a new set of COVID-19 Recordkeeping and Reporting FAQs that represented a serious departure from federal OSHA’s guidance on that same subject.  Throughout the pandemic, federal OSHA has maintained that employers need only record and report COVID-19 cases that are:

  1. Confirmed by a positive laboratory test of a respiratory specimen; and
  2. “More likely than not” the result of a workplace exposure, based on reasonably available evidence, and the absence of any alternative (non-work) explanation for the employee’s illness.

Cal/OSHA’s May 27th guidance, however, breaks from both of those key requirements for COVID-19 recordkeeping, rejecting the need for a confirmed case and flipping the burden of establishing work-relatedness on its head, Cal-OSHA RK FAQSestablishing instead a presumption of work-related if any workplace exposure can be identified, even if the cause of the illness is just as likely to be attributable to a non-work exposure.

Aside from being bad policy that will result in many illnesses being recorded on 300 Logs only in California that were not actually COVID-19 cases, and/or that were not caused by exposures in the workplace, Cal/OSHA’s unique COVID-19 recording criteria are not permitted by law.

More COVID-19 cases on your logs can create significant risk of liability.  For example, there is no doubt an avalanche of wrongful death and personal injury suits waiting around the corner, and while recording an illness is not an admission of wrong-doing, it is an admission that the illness was likely spread in your workplace.  Plaintiffs’ attorneys will make hay of that to show your exposure control efforts were insufficient, or to show that the illnesses experienced by their clients (customers, contractors, family members of employees, and others whose suits would not be barred by workers’ compensation exclusivity) likely were also contracted in your workplace or because of your workplace.  And of course, more illnesses having to be recorded also creates more potential for Cal/OSHA citations for failure to record or failure to record timely or accurately.

The Coalition for Uniformity in COVID-19 Recordkeeping

Conn Maciel Carey organized and represents the Coalition for Uniformity in COVID-19 Recordkeeping, which is composed of a broad array of California employers impacted by Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 recordkeeping requirements. Continue reading

[Webinar] Everything You Need to Know About Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard

On Monday, August 3rd at 1 PM ET, join Eric J. Conn (Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice), Susan Wilcox (a CIH and CSP with Safety Resource Associates), and special guest Jennifer Rose (VOSH Cooperative Programs Director with the Virginia Dept. of Labor and Industry) for a complimentary webinar regardingEverything You Need to Know About Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard.” 

Last week, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory safety regulation designed to reduce COVID-19 infectionsVOSH Cover Slide in the workplace, when Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam announced the commonwealth’s adoption of an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”). The COVID-19 ETS, which was drafted by Virginia’s Department of Labor and Industry, requires Virginia employers to: Continue reading

Virginia Promulgates the Nation’s First Mandatory COVID-19 Workplace Safety Regulation

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On Wednesday, July 15, 2020, Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam announced the commonwealth’s adoption of an emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) on infectious disease prevention.  With that, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory safety regulation designed to prevent and/or reduce COVID-19 infections in the workplace.  VA EOThe Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted to approve the ETS after Governor Northam directed the creation of enforceable regulations in a May Executive Order (the same EO that mandated the use of masks in public for all Virginians).  Specifically, Governor Northam directed:

“The Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry shall promulgate emergency regulations and standards to control, prevent, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The regulations and standards … shall apply to every employer, employee, and place of employment within the jurisdiction of the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) program.”

Virginia state officials said they were forced to act because federal OSHA had not developed an employer safety standard to protect against infections from the Coronavirus, and thus the burden to do so has been left to the states.

The ETS, which was drafted by Virginia’s Department of Labor and Industry, will go into effect after it is published in a newspaper in Richmond, VA, which is expected to occur the week of July 27th.  The rule will remain in effect as an ETS for at least six months, but can be made permanent through the Virginia OSHA (VOSH) formal rulemaking process defined by state law.  Although the Final Rule has not been published, the rulemaking process has been somewhat public, with early drafts of the rule discussed and debated in public meetings, and what appears to be the final rule published today.

While some requirements apply to all employers of any size and in any industry, the Rule requires employers to conduct a risk assessment to identify potential exposures to COVID-19 in the workplace, and to categorize employees’ job tasks as “very high,” “high,” “medium,” or “lower” (as defined in the Rule).  The hazard assessment has to be verified by a written certification that identifies the workplace evaluated, the person certifying that the evaluated was completed, the dates of the assessment, and the document as a certification.

Each category has a separate list of precautions employers are required to take 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

California Governor Deploys COVID-19 “Strike Force” Over Holiday Weekend to Enforce Workplace Restrictions

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force 

California increased its efforts to combat COVID-19 over the July 4th holiday weekend by deploying multi-agency strike teams to visit or otherwise make contact with businesses to evaluate and enforce compliance with and/or educate them about the State’s numerous COVID-19 orders, directives, and guidance.

The “Strike Force” includes representatives from at least ten different state agencies.  Approximately 100 agents are from the Alcohol Beverage Control agency and the rest from the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), the California Highway Patrol, the Board of Barbering & Cosmetology, Consumer Affairs, Food and Agriculture, Labor Commissioner’s Office, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, and other state licensing entities.

Ahead of the July 4th holiday, Governor Newsom ordered bars, indoor restaurants, movie theaters and more to close in a number of counties on a state watch list.  The state monitoring list is ever changing and represents counties with a need for more support and/or enforcement.

Over the holiday, hundreds of state inspectors fanned out across California to enforce health orders related to Coronavirus.

The State’s actions are likely authorized by Executive Order N-33-20, which generally directs all residents immediately to heed current State public health directives to stay home, Calif EOexcept as needed to maintain continuity of operations of essential critical infrastructure sectors and additional sectors as the State Public Health Officer “may designate” as critical to protect health and well-being of all Californians.  As for the crackdown, the actions taken are likely be based on recent Continue reading

Oregon OSHA Initiates Rulemaking for Emergency Temporary COVID-19 Standards

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On June 26, 2020, Oregon OSHA announced that in consultation with the Oregon Health Authority (OHA)/Public Health and other technical advisors, as well as affected stakeholders, it had begun to develop a pair of temporary COVID-19 workplace rules — one for healthcare and closely-related industries, and another for general workplaces.  Picture1The target effective date for those temporary rules is September 1, 2020, with the rules to remain in effect through at least February 2021. In parallel, Oregon will also begin work on permanent rules addressing airborne infectious disease control through the state’s normal rulemaking process.

The technical advisory group meetings and external stakeholder meetings are already taking place and are expected to be completed over the next two weeks.

Even though the emergency temporary standards will not go through the typical, more formal rulemaking process, there are still opportunities for employers to influence:

  • the scope of the rules;
  • the substantive requirements of the rules; and/or
  • how their workplaces will be characterized (i.e., as healthcare or general industry).

Participation in the stakeholder meetings and the submission of comments could make

a significant impact on the nature of the burdens placed on Oregon employers through the remainder of the pandemic.

Continue reading

OSHA Issues COVID-19 FAQs about Respirators, Face Masks, and Face Coverings

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As COVID Spring transitions to COVID Summer, wearing some form of face covering has become the new norm, especially in workplaces all across the country.  Many employers operating essential businesses, as well as non-essential business that have begun to reopen, have sought to provide or require some form of respirator, face mask, or face covering for employees.  Given OSHA’s particular emphasis on respiratory protection throughout the pandemic and for the foreseeable future, it is important for employers to be aware of the OSHA guidelines and obligations regarding respirators and face coverings in the workplace.

Depending on the type of face mask used, and whether it is mandated by the employer or merely permitted for voluntary use, there are certain requirements that employers must follow under OSHA’s respiratory protection standard, 29 C.F.R. 1910.134, and perhaps  other regulations.  Last week, OSHA issued a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about face coverings to help employers navigate obligations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.Face Covering FAQs

As a starting point, let’s level-set the type of equipment we are talking about.  N95 masks, although they are called masks and look like masks, are actually considered by OSHA to be respirators.  Of course, anything more substantial than an N95 mask, such as half- or full-face tight-fitting face pieces with a filtering medium, are also considered by OSHA to be respirators.  Use of that type of equipment in the workplace, whether it is required by the employer or permitted for voluntary use, triggers numerous duties under OSHA’s respiratory protection standard that we will discuss below.  On the other hand, simple paper or cloth masks, like dental or surgical masks, are not considered to be respirators, and do not trigger any requirements under 1910.134.

Let’s start this discussion with the more ubiquitous face coverings that are NOT considered to be respirators, and also are not considered to be personal protective equipment (PPE).

Paper or Cloth Face Masks

Setting aside respirators for the moment, if your workplace is permitting or even requiring use of some form of a loose-fitting paper or cloth mask, or even a generic face covering like a bandana or one of the DIY masks that CDC has been promoting for general use by the public, none of those is considered to be a respirator, AND none of those is even considered to be a form of PPE.

As a general rule, 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

Conn Maciel Carey’s Multi-Disciplinary COVID-19 Task Force Resources

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As employers around the country grapple with the employment law and workplace safety implications of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (“COVID-19”), COVID-19 Task Force PageConn Maciel Carey formed a national, multi-disciplinary legal and regulatory task force dedicated to helping our clients across all industries manage the multitude of pandemic-related issues employers are facing and preparing them for the tidal wave of litigation that is waiting around the corner.

As part of our COVID-19 Task Force, the firm’s dedicated Workplace Safety, Labor and Employment, and Litigation attorneys have produced a comprehensive set of resources to guide employers through this uncharted territory and the unique workplace challenges presented by the presence of a new health hazard in our nation’s workplaces.

We have now pulled those resources together in a single location — Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force Page, where employers can find:

Our COVID-19 Task Force has spent the last few months working with our clients to: Continue reading

OSHA Issues COVID-19 Guidance for the Construction Industry

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Federal OSHA just issued new COVID-19 guidance focused on the construction industry.  It does not tread a lot of new ground, but here is a summary of it.

Most construction projects and tasks will be in the Lower or Medium risk exposure category in OSHA’s COVID-19 risk matrix (those categories require much less in the way of engineering and administrative controls than healthcare and manufacturing facilities. Social distancing and physical barriers continue to be the principal method to control infection recommended by OSHA. With respect to separating employees at construction sites, OSHA recommends:Construction Guidance

  • Using closed doors and walls, whenever feasible, as physical barriers to separate workers from any individuals experiencing signs and/or symptoms consistent with COVID-19; and/or
  • Erecting plastic sheeting barriers when workers need to occupy specific areas of an indoor work site where they are in close contact (less than 6 feet) with someone suspected of having or known to have COVID-19.

OSHA also recommends gathering certain information (and provides sample questions) about projects before sending workers to perform construction activities in an indoor environment that may be occupied by a homeowner, customer, worker, or another occupant.

The new guidance includes a large section on “Face Coverings in Construction,” consistent with OSHA’s general movement towards a consistent expectation that employers will provide and require face coverings in workplaces whenever and wherever social distancing cannot be assured.  The Face Covering section in this construction guidance explains that:

  • CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings as a protective measure in addition to social distancing (i.e., staying at least 6’ away from others).
  • Cloth face coverings are especially important when social distancing is not feasible based on working conditions.
  • A cloth face covering may

    Continue reading

COVID-19 OSHA Recordkeeping and Reporting: OSHA Reverses Course on Work-Relatedness

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

There are myriad workplace safety and health implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, but one OSHA regulatory obligation about which we have received countless questions the past three months is the requirement to record on an OSHA 300 Log and/or pick up the phone and report to OSHA work-related cases of COVID-19.  This article explains the circumstances the OSHA recordkeeping and reporting obligations related to employee COVID-19 cases.

The Cold and Flu Exemption to OSHA Recordkeeping

By regulation, the common cold and flu are exempt from OSHA’s recordkeeping and reporting requirements (29 CFR Part 1904.5(b)(2)(viii)):

“An injury or illness occurring in the work environment that falls under one of the following exceptions is not work-related, and therefore is not recordable…. The illness is the common cold or flu.”

The rationale for the exemption is that the spread of the cold and flu is so pervasive and potential exposures are ubiquitous within and outside the workplace, so it can be nearly impossible to identify the specific source of infection.

Despite great personal sacrifice around the country in the form of mass self-quarantine, the scale of infection of COVID-19 continues to spread like the flu and common cold, with even more dire consequences.  Nevertheless, OSHA has repeatedly made clear that COVID-19 is not subject to the cold/flu recordkeeping exemption:

“While 29 CFR 1904.5(b)(2)(viii) exempts recording of the common cold and flu, COVID-19 is a recordable illness when a worker is infected on the job.”

OSHA has explained that the cold and flu recordkeeping exemption is not just an OSHA policy or enforcement philosophy.  Rather, it is a part of the regulation itself that went through APA notice-and-comment rulemaking.  And the scientific reality is, COVID-19 is not the cold or flu.  It is a different virus.  So without another rulemaking (that history suggests would take longer than it will to eradicate this illness), OSHA cannot just declare this serious illness to be exempt from recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

Indeed, over a series of guidance documents in April and May, OSHA has doubled-down on its decision that employers must spend time determining whether cases of COVID-19 are more likely than not work-related.

Determine Recordability of COVID-19 Cases

Consistent across all of OSHA’s COVID-19 guidance has been the basic structure for evaluating whether an employee’s COVID-19 case is recordable.  Employers will only be responsible for recording a case of COVID-19 if it meets the following criteria: Continue reading

COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan: What It Is and Why Every Employer Needs One

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As states across the country begin to loosen or lift stay-at-home and shutdown orders, many workplaces that had been idled, have just begun to or will soon resume operations.  Many states and localities are setting as a precondition for reopening, a requirement that they develop and implement a written, site-specific COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan.

Regardless of any state or local requirement to develop such a plan, any business that operates without an Exposure Control Plan will be potentially exposed to a number of legal or business risks, such as an OSHA citation, being shutdown by a state or local health department, and/or becoming a target for a wrongful death action brought by families of employees, temporary workers, customers, vendors and/or guests. They should also plan to deal with a workforce that is scared and anxious about the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which may result in employees refusing to work (which would disrupt and complicate scheduling) and/or making regular and frequent complaints to OSHA about the purported unchecked hazard in your workplace.  Responding to these complaints will take time and cost money, distracting your business from its mission.  Retaliation claims under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act is another foreseeable consequence of a scared workforce.  Without an Exposure Control Plan in place, the legal vulnerabilities will be real and are potentially significant.

We focus below on five key reasons employers must develop a written COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan.  But first, what is an exposure control plan?

What is an Exposure Control and Response Plan?

When OSHA identifies a serious safety or health hazard, it usually requires employers to develop a written program including the measures employers will take to counteract the hazard.  For example, OSHA requires written lockout/tagout programs to protect against hazardous energy; respiratory protection programs and process safety management programs to protect against hazardous chemical exposures; and emergency action plans to protect against the risk of fires in the workpalce.  Simply put, a COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan is a written safety plan outlining how your workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19, covering issues such as:

  • How you will facilitate social distancing in your workplace;
  • What engineering or administrative controls you will implement when workers cannot remain at least 6′ apart;
  • The steps that you will take to ensure employees comply with personal hygiene practices;
  • What types of protective equipment you will provide for various tasks and operations;
  • What enhanced housekeeping protocols will be implemented for frequently touched surfaces, tools, and machines;
  • What you are doing to prevent/screen sick workers from entering the workplace;
  • How you will respond to confirmed or suspected cases among your workforce; and
  • How you will communicate with and train your workforce on these mitigation measures.

Five Reasons to Develop a Written COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan

First, whether you have remained open because you are an essential business or plan to reopen soon, you may soon find yourself required to Continue reading

California Governor Issues COVID-19 Executive Order Extending Deadlines for Cal/OSHA Citations and Appeals

By Fred Walter and Andrew Sommer

With no fanfare, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued the latest in his series of COVID-19-related executive orders on May 7, 2020. Executive Order N-63-20 extends by 60 days the time for Cal/OSHA to issue citations and for employers to file appeals, motions and petitions for reconsideration.

As rationale for extending these statutory, jurisdictional deadlines, Governor Newsom explained:

WHEREAS the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as physical distancing and
other public health measures undertaken in response to it, have affected
governmental agencies, workers, private businesses, and California residents,
with associated impacts on adherence to certain statutory and regulatory
deadlines, as well as to workers’ efforts to vindicate their labor and employment
rights; and

WHEREAS the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as physical distancing and
other public health measures undertaken in response to it, have also had
widespread impacts on state and local governments’ ability to perform certain
functions via in-person interactions, and such functions should be performed via
other means to the extent consistent with public safety and other critical public
interests….

As to the Cal/OSHA related deadlines specifically, the Order states:

“The deadlines specified in or that apply to (Labor Code section 6317, related to the issuance of Cal/OSHA citations, and Labor Code sections 6319, 6600, 6600.5, 6601a and 6601.5) shall be extended for a period of 60 days to the limited extent that at the time to issue a citation or file a complaint, claim, or appeal would otherwise elapse in the 60-day period…” following the effective date of the Order, which was May 7, 2020.

A review of the cited Labor Code sections reveals that this Order extends Cal/OSHA’s time to issue citations and the employer’s time to file appeals, motions and petitions for reconsideration.

Labor Code section 6317 gives Cal/OSHA six months following the occurrence of a violation of a safety order to issue a citation or notice in lieu of citation. The remaining Labor Code sections cited in the Order put employers on notice that they must file an appeal within 15 working days of receipt of a citation or notice. If they do not, their right to do so would be lost.

As with most executive orders, this language is open to interpretation. Cal/OSHA Enforcement reads the Order to mean that Continue reading