Following the 2013 West Fertilizer explosion, then-President Obama issued Exec. Orders directing OSHA, EPA and other agencies to “modernize” the chemical process safety regulatory landscape. OSHA and EPA took sweeping actions, from enforcement initiatives (like a new PSM National Emphasis Program) to rulemakings and interpretation letters.
Then President Trump took office with a de-regulatory agenda. But rather than unwavering deregulation, Trump Admin. initiatives in this area have been splintered, with some deregulatory work proceeding (e.g., rollback of RMP amendments), others coming to a complete halt (e.g., PSM reform rulemaking), and still others moving forward like business as usual (e.g., the Chem/REF PSM NEP inspections and the CSB’s new accidental release reporting rule). And now, with the Presidential Election behind us (sort of), and a new Biden Administration looming, we could see another significant shake-up of the regulatory landscape.
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.
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 →
Following in the wake of Virginia OSHA and Michigan OSHA issuing enforceable COVID-19 emergency temporary standards, and as Oregon OSHA and Cal/OSHA ready their own COVID-19 emergency standards this month, New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, issued Executive Order No. 192 (“EO 192”) on October 28, 2020, imposing a series of requirements on Garden State employers.
Whereas Virginia, Michigan, California, and Oregon are all State OSH Plan States, meaning they have state agencies that enforce workplace safety and health standards, New Jersey employers fall within the jurisdiction of federal OSHA, and as a result, enforcement of EO 192 will fall to New Jersey state agencies that do not normally focus on occupational safety and health issues. In a press release announcing EO 192, Governor Murphy explained why he issued the Order despite federal OSHA’s primary jurisdiction over workplace safety in New Jersey. Governor Murphy explained:
“A more significant portion of the State’s workforce has returned to in-person work, and as [New Jersey’s] economy continues to gradually reopen, it is necessary to ensure broad application of relevant health and safety standards to protect workers across all industries.”
Governor Murphy also pointed to the absence of a federal COVID-19 standard as another reason for the need for the EO in New Jersey:
“the federal government has failed to provide all workers the proper standards and protections that they deserve. Today’s executive order closes that gap to help ensure the health and safety of our workforce during this unprecedented time…. Today’s executive order lays out the enforceable standards we need, ensuring the safety of our workers, employers and customers. I will continue to fight for a federal OSHA emergency temporary standard, but where the Trump Administration and Mitch McConnell have dropped the ball, our state has stepped up.”
In order to comply with EO 192, New Jersey employers must:
Continue to focus on ensuring 6 feet of distance between workers whenever feasible. Where the nature of an employee’s work or the work area does not allow for 6 feet of distance to be maintained at all times, employers must ensure that each such employee wears a mask and install physical barriers between workstations wherever possible.
Require employees, customers, visitors, and other individuals entering the worksite to wear cloth or disposable face masks while on the premises. Masks must be provided to employees at no cost. Employees may remove their masks when at their workstations if they are at least 6 feet from anyone else, or when alone in a walled office. Notably, EO 192 provides that employers may deny entry to customers who refuse to wear a mask but does not mandate denial of service as states such as Michigan and Oregon have required.
On Friday, October 23, 2020, Oregon OSHA released the latest version of its proposed COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (the “OR ETS”). Already delayed several times, it now appears that the OR ETS will go into effect the week of November 2nd, and include one set of mandates for all workplaces and another set for what it defines as “workplaces of exceptional risk” — namely those that include job duties related to direct patient care, aerosol-generating or post-mortem procedures, in-home care and/or direct client service in residential care or assisted living facilities. The October 23rd draft also includes an appendix with “mandatory guidance” for 19 specific industries and/or workplace activities, including restaurants and bars, retail, construction, veterinary clinics and entertainment facilities.
Employers seeking to have input in the final rule have little time as Oregon OSHA presently plans to only accept written comments through Friday, October 30. Depending on how extensive the feedback is submitted, Oregon OSHA will finalize the rule and adjust the various effective dates included in it depending upon its adoption date.
About the need for an emergency rule, leadership at OR OSHA said this:
“The COVID-19 emergency has highlighted the risks that any infectious disease, particularly one that is airborne, can create for a wide variety of workplaces. As a result of both the immediate and long-term risks highlighted by the current public and occupational health crisis, Oregon OSHA is responding to the request that the state adopt an enforceable workplace health rule on an emergency basis this summer, to be replaced by a permanent rule.”
Oregon OSHA plans to develop and release materials to support work on the risk assessment, the written exposure control plan, and the training activities required in the rule. The agency is also still revising an OSHA Hazards Poster that employers will be required to post in the workplace.
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)
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 →
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, CDC 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.
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:
a symptom-based strategy; and
a test-based strategy.
It also offered individuals with COVID-19 who never showed symptoms two options:
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.”
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 →
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 regarding “Everything 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 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 →
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. The 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 →
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. The 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:
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
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 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, except 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 →
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.
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.
Recent data from OSHA indicates that in FY2019 there were over 2500 citations issued under §1910.178, which contains OSHA’s standard on PIT. This was the seventh most frequently cited standard by OSHA that year and according to OSHA, and specifically at the sub-sections of enforcement under §1910.178, the most commonly cited elements of the standard in FY2019 were:
178(l)(1)(i) – operator training: ensuring that operators are competent to safely operate a powered industrial truck as demonstrated by completion of training and evaluation;
178(l)(4)(iii) – refresher training and evaluation: evaluation of operator’s performance must be conducted at least once every three years;
178(l)(6) – certification of operator training and evaluation;
178(p)(1) – taking powered industrial trucks out of service when in need of repair, defective, or unsafe; and
178(l)(1)(ii) – operator training: ensuring completion of training prior to permitting employee to operate powered industrial truck.
It is imperative that employers utilizing PIT remain consistent when implementing training programs for material handling, and also know when to retrain. Not only must a recertification take place at least once every three years, as outlined in §1910.178(I)(4(iii), but refresher training must also be provided to operators if: Continue reading →
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.
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 →
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.
“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 →
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
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
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 →
As the federal government and states begin to relax shutdown and stay-at-home orders and non-essential businesses begin to resume or ramp-up operations, employers need to plan for the safe and healthy return of their employees, customers, and guests back into the workplace. During this webinar, participants heard from members of Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force as they discussed how to develop and implement a Return-to-Work Plan.
On May 1, 2020, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced of Puerto Rico issued a COVID-related Executive Order (“EO 2020-038”), which imposes a number of requirements upon employers, included among them that every employer must develop a comprehensive, site-specific COVID-19 exposure control plan prior to reopening. The Executive Order also makes clear that employers already open under prior exemptions to prior lockdown orders must also prepare a plan and must do so as soon as possible.
To implement the Executive Order, the Puerto Rico Secretary of Labor issued Circular Letter 2020-03 (“CL 2020-03”), setting forth the elements that must be covered in the plan, including the requirement that the plan be “exclusive to [your] particular workplace.”
There are 22 total elements that must be covered, including the requirements that the plan:
Be a written document, specific to the workplace and contemplates the particular tasks, the physical structure and the number of employees.
Include recommendations issued by local, national and international health agencies regarding controls to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Detail the monitoring and/or screening process of personnel prior to entering the workplace.
Indicate the control measures that will be taken to achieve the physical distance between employees and clients/public.
Indicate how adequate ventilation will be provided to ensure adequate air flows and, in locations with air conditioning systems, effective filtering.
In explaining the need for this enforcement relief, OSHA recognized that:
“Widespread business closures, restrictions on travel, limitations on group sizes, facility visitor prohibitions, and stay-at-home or shelter-in-place requirements” have strained the “availability of employees, consultants, or contractors who normally provide training, auditing, equipment inspections, testing, and other essential safety and industrial hygiene services,” as well as the opportunity for “employee participation in training even when trainers are available.” Similarly, “access to medical testing facilities may be limited or suspended.”
To address these very real challenges to achieving full compliance with various annual and other regulatory requirements, OSHA issued a temporary enforcement policy based on the agency’s enforcement discretion to relax enforcement of many existing regulatory obligations if complying with these obligations is not feasible or if doing so would pose an unreasonable risk of virus transmission among the employer’s workforce. Today’s enforcement policy applies broadly to employers in all industry sectors, takes effect immediately, and will remain in effect indefinitely throughout the current public health crisis.
The heart of the new enforcement policy is this:
Where an employer is unable to comply with OSHA standards that require annual or recurring audits, reviews, training, assessments, inspections, or testing because of the Coronavirus pandemic, AND the employer has made good faith attempts to comply, OSHA “shall take such efforts into strong consideration in determining whether to cite a violation.”
But where the employer cannot demonstrate any efforts to comply or why trying to comply would be more hazardous, a citation may issue as appropriate.
As part of OSHA’s assessment whether an employer engaged in good faith compliance efforts, OSHA will evaluate whether the employer Continue reading →
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.
As 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:
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;
certain laboratories, public health services and police services that are reasonably anticipated to expose employees to an aerosol transmissible disease;
correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and drug treatment programs; and
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 →
On April 7, 2020, Washington Department of Labor and Industries’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health (“WA DLI/DOSH”) issued a Directive entitled General Coronavirus Prevention Under Stay Home – Stay Healthy Order that describes in detail what employers are expected to do in order to comply with the Order. According to the Directive, there are four basic categories of prevention elements that WA DLI/DOSH will look for during any investigation, whether in response to a hazard alert letter or an on-site visit—WA employers must:
Ensure social distancing practices for employees (and control customer flow, if applicable);
Ensure frequent and adequate employee handwashing and surface sanitation (with focus on high-touch areas/items);
Ensure sick employees stay home or go home if ill; and
Provide basic workplace hazard education about coronavirus and how to prevent transmission in the language best understood by the employee.
The last element is best accomplished through posting notices and virtual modes of communication such as videos, text messages, emails or announcements during the day since in-person training meetings are discouraged.
The Directive lays out in outline format the basic/essential elements of a compliant COVID-19 prevention program, including Continue reading →
As concerns about the spread of COVID-19 grow, many employees working in essential businesses have sought to provide or require some form of respirator, face mask, or face covering for employees. Now, the CDC and White House are recommending that everyone wear some form of face covering any time in public to help reduce community spread of COVID-19. So, it is important 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 required by the employer or 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 by other regulatory requirements.
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. That type of equipment, whether it is required by the employer or permitted for voluntary use, triggers some requirements of OSHA’s respiratory protection standard that we will discuss below. Simple paper or cloth masks, like dental or non-N95 surgical masks, on the other hand, are not considered to be respirators, and do not trigger any requirements under 1910.134.
OSHA’s respiratory protection standard provides that a respirator shall be provided to each employee when such equipment is necessary to protect the health of such employee; i.e., if there are exposures to chemicals or other hazardous agents above permissible exposure limits. If a respirator is necessary because of exposure levels or simply because an employer mandates employees wear respirators, the employer must establish a written respiratory protection program that includes numerous elements such as fit testing, medical evaluations, procedures for proper use, storage and cleaning, and training.
OSHA’s initial Guidance for COVID-19 in the Workplace described four exposure risk categories (lower, medium, high, and very high) that workplaces and job tasks fall into, and the safety precautions that should be considered for each risk level, including what personal protective equipment (“PPE”) may be appropriate. The majority of workplaces, other than healthcare workers and those with regular close contact with known or suspected COVID-19 patients, fall into the lower or medium risk category. As of today, neither OSHA nor the CDC has issued guidance indicating that N95 respirators, or any other device considered to be a respirator, is required in lower- and medium-risk workplaces to protect employees from exposures to COVID-19.
However, that does not answer the question about what, if any, regulatory requirements there are if employers permit employees to voluntarily use N95s or other negative pressure filtering facepieces. OSHA most succinctly addressed which parts of 1910.134 apply to the voluntary use of N95 masks in a 2009 Interpretation Letter with this statement:
“If respiratory protection is not required and the employer did not advise the employee to use [an N95 dust mask], but the employee requested to use a dust mask, it would be considered voluntary use. Under these conditions, there would be no requirement to develop a written respiratory protection program; however, the employer would be responsible for providing the employee with a copy of Appendix D of 1910.134[, which outlines information for employees using respirators when not required under the standard].”
As employers around the country grapple with the employment law and workplace safety regulatory implications of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus – now called “COVID-19,” the Labor & Employment Law and OSHA specialist attorneys on Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s multi-disciplinary COVID-19 Task Force have been fielding countless questions and helping our clients and friends in industry manage this pandemic.
To aid employers, we have created an extensive index of frequently asked questions with our answers about HR, employment law, and OSHA regulatory related developments and guidance. Here are the categories addressed in the FAQs tool: