Cal/OSHA Reveals a Draft of Its Proposed “Permanent” COVID-19 Regulation

By Andrew J. Sommer

Cal/OSHA has used up all of its “re-adoptions” of its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard, so if COVID-19 regulatory requirements are to remain in effect in California into 2023, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board will need to adopt a “Permanent” COVID-19 rule. At a meeting of the Cal/OSH Standards Board last week, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) revealed a proposed Permanent COVID-19 rule.

Andrew J. Sommer, the Head of CMC’s Cal/OSHA Practice, was interviewed by InsideOSHA about these developments.  Here’s a link to the article with that detailed interview, and below is some additional context and background about the rulemaking.

The draft permanent rule is intended to replace the COVID-19 ETS that is set to expire at the end of 2022.  Here is a link to the agency’s draft regulatory text for the permanent rule.  The proposed permanent rule is expected to remain in effect for two years, except for the record-making and recordkeeping provisions that would remain effective for three years.

While DOSH previously indicated that the “permanent” rule would be consistent with the ETS, there are a few significant changes we have identified.  Most troubling among them, the definition of “close contact” has been made consistent with California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidance removing the 6-foot, 15-minutes standard.  Instead, the draft defines close contact as:

Continue reading

CDC Relaxes Face Covering and Distancing Guidelines

By Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Task Force

As governors and big city mayors across the country have been allowing indoor masking mandates to expire over the last few weeks, last Friday, February 25th, the CDC unveiled a brand new approach to assessing COVID-19 risks and setting mask and distancing recommendations.   The CDC’s old tool, which measured the number of COVID-19 cases to determine the relevant level of virus transmission in each community had lost its usefulness as it rendered nearly the entire country as high-risk (95% of all counties), even as the number of people getting seriously ill had dropped precipitously this year.

CDC’s new guidelines measure the impact the pandemic by looking at three factors week over week:

  1. New cases per capita (as with the prior guidelines; but also
  2. New COVID-19 related hospital admissions; and
  3. The percentage of area hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Each county will have a weekly “COVID Community Level Rating” that is either Low (green), Medium (yellow) or High (orange).  Each level/color has recommended mitigation strategies, set in the table below:

Here is a link to CDC’s tool to identify the level of COVID-19 transmission in your county.

The big news is that CDC recommends Continue reading

[WEBINAR] OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency and Permanent Standards and Enforcement

On Thursday, February 10, 2022 at 1 p.m. EST, join Eric J. Conn, Kate McMahon, Aaron Gelb and Amanda Strainis-Walker for a webinar regarding OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency and Permanent Standards and Enforcement.

As US employers grapple with the latest surge of COVID-19 cases from the Omicron variant, they are also left to grapple with uncertainty following the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstitute a Stay of OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test ETS. Will we see another COVID-19 emergency rule that tries to navigate the guardrails set by the Supreme Court? Will OSHA return to aggressive enforcement under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause? What is expected from employers on the COVID-19 front to avoid OSHA enforcement?

During this webinar, attorneys from CMC’s COVID-19 Task Force will provide a detailed analysis of OSHA’s regulatory and enforcement landscape post-Supreme Court. Specifically, we will address these important questions raised by the latest developments on the COVID-19 front: Continue reading

Cal/OSHA Proposes “Permanent” COVID-19 Prevention Rule – Under Review By Its Advisory Committee

Cal/OSHA has just convened an Advisory Committee to consider a proposed permanent Cal/OSHA COVID-19 prevention permanent rule, scheduled to meet on September 23, 2021.  Conn Maciel Carey has been invited to serve on the Advisory Committee, on behalf of the California Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition – composed of a broad array of California and national employers substantially impacted by Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 standards.

Last Friday, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) posted the attached discussion draft for the proposed permanent rule.  If adopted, the permanent rule would expire in 2 years (subject to renewal/amendment) and replace the existing Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). We expect that upon the permanent rule sunsetting, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board might take up a permanent general infectious disease standard – which would be another battle to be waged.  There is a broad consensus among the employer community that a general infectious disease standard is unnecessary and ill advised, in light of the existing Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) and Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standards and the inability to prescribe specific measures to address pandemics that have yet to arise.

As many may recall, the ETS was hurriedly adopted around Thanksgiving last year and then amended in June 2021 following bizarre twists and turns, with the Standards Board reconsidering proposed text and votes faced with concerns the draft amendment was not aligned with CDC guidance and was otherwise unwieldy.  Ultimately, the Standards Board formed a subcommittee to consider the future of the ETS that has met regularly since June.

Big picture, the draft permanent rule is largely a significant improvement over the ETS but there are some areas of concern that we hope are addressed through the Advisory Committee process.  We have summarized how the draft permanent rule materially departs from the ETS: Continue reading

MSHA Issues Guidance for Mine Operators and Independent Contractors to Mitigate and Prevent Spread of COVID-19

By: Nicholas W. Scala and Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On March 10, 2021, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) released additional – and more detailed – COVID-19 guidance.  Issued under the Biden Administration, “Protecting Miners: MSHA Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19” is significantly more detailed than what was provided by MSHA in 2020. The enhanced guidance recommends mine operators and independent contractors working at mines take additional action to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. This is akin to what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has recommended in its COVID-19 guidance for general industry workplaces.

Similar to the previous guidance issued by the agency, MSHA continues to rely heavily on best practices outlined byCOVID guidnce the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), however, unlike MSHA’s 2020 guidance, this time the agency lays out specific actions and policies it “recommends” operators undertake while highlighting several specific, existing MSHA regulations that can be applied to COVID-19 prevention for enforcement purposes.

Below, we take a look at some of the most impactful elements of the MSHA guidance, but for a complete review of the MSHA guidance, join us on Thursday, March 18th for the MSHA Defense Report 2021 Webinar – COVID-19 and MSHA: Best Practices and Compliance Strategies for Mine Operators.

COVID-19 Prevention Programs

 For the first time, MSHA formally recommends that each mine develop and implement a COVID-19 Prevention Program. These programs, which have been recommended by OSHA and are required in multiple state-plan OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards (“ETS”), are expected to be the mine’s (or contractor’s) outline and collection of COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Our Conn Maciel Carey workplace safety team has been recommending employers have these plans in place, and assisting clients with the development of COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plans throughout the pandemic.

Now, those employers regulated by MSHA will be expected to have the plans in place. In instances where OSHA has come on site for COVID-19 complaints or investigations, most often the first document request to the employer is for the site’s COVID-19 Prevention Program, even though under federal OSHA – as with MSHA – it is not currently required by regulation.

MSHA recommends a miner’s COVID-19 Prevention Program and plan would at a minimum: Continue reading

Coalition to Work on Federal OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Rulemaking

Background

In his first day in office, President Biden issued an Executive Order (“EO”) that directed Fed OSHA to revisit its strategy for regulating and enforcing workplace spread of COVID-19.  Among other actions, the EO directed OSHA to consider whether a federal COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) is necessary.  We believe it is a foregone conclusion OSHA will issue an ETS.  The lack of an explicit mandate to do so is likely more a formality than a real open question; i.e., the President prefers the appearance that the workplace safety experts at OSHA made the decision, but the White House has made clear what it expects.

Assuming OSHA determines an ETS is needed, the EO sets a March 15th deadline for OSHA to finalize and issue the rule, so OSHA is surely already working intensely on a COVID-19 ETS.  Although OSHA has not yet confirmed its intent to develop an ETS, we believe it prudent to begin our advocacy efforts as soon as possible, as there will likely be a small pre-rule window to impact the rule before it issues.

The question remains, though, what will a Fed OSHA COVID-19 ETS look like?  We need look no further than the examples set by the State OSH Plans that already have issued COVID-19 ETSs to see the difference between a manageable, effective rule (see Virginia OSHA’s ETS) and a daunting, sometimes unworkable rule (see Cal/OSHA’s ETS). Continue reading