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

Announcing Conn Maciel Carey’s 2020 OSHA Webinar Series

We are three years into the Trump Administration, and we have seen a mixed bag of change and business as usual at OSHA in enforcement and rulemaking. We watched late Obama-era OSHA rules get repealed, delayed, or amended and a modest boost in compliance assistance—the sort of policy shifts you expect to see in a transition from a Democratic to a Republican Administration. However, we have seen plenty of the unexpected, such as increases in virtually every enforcement metric, including record numbers of $100K+ enforcement actions. And most surprising of all, OSHA still does not have an Assistant Secretary—the longest ever vacancy for the top job at OSHA—and it seems highly likely the Agency will remain without a Senate-approved leader for the entirety of this presidential term. As we move into an election year, the final year of President Trump’s current term, we expect more reshuffling of OSHA enforcement policies and rulemaking priorities, and surely more surprises, so it is critical to stay abreast of OSHA developments.

Conn Maciel Carey’s complimentary 2020 OSHA Webinar Series includes monthly webinars presented by OSHA-specialist attorneys in the firm’s national OSHA Practice designed to give employers insight into developments at OSHA during this remarkable time in OSHA’s history. 

To register for an individual webinar, use the registration links in the program descriptions below. To register for the entire 2020 Series, click here to send an email request, and we will register you. If you miss a program this year or missed any in prior years, click here for our webinar archive.

We are exploring CLE approval for this series.  If you are interested in CLE or other forms of Continuing Education credits, click here to complete a survey.

OSHA’s 2019 in Review
and 2020 Forecast

Thursday, January 23rd

All You Need to Know About
OSHA’s General Duty Clause

Thursday, July 23rd

OSHA Settlement
Tips And Strategies

Tuesday, February 25th

Employee Discipline – OSHA
and Labor & Employment Issues

Wednesday, August 19th

Strategies for Responding to Whistleblower Complaints

Wednesday, March 25th

Privileged Audits and Investigations and OSHA’s Self-Audit Policy

Tuesday, September 22nd

Annual Cal/OSHA Update

Thursday, April 16th

Impact of the Election on OSHA

Thursday, October 22nd

E-Recordkeeping and
Injury
Reporting Update

Wednesday, May 20th

Updates about OSHA’s PSM
Standard and EPA’s RMP Rule

Tuesday, November 17th

OSHA’s PPE Standards –
Top 5 Risks and Mistakes

Tuesday, June 16th

Impact of America’s Aging Workforce on OSHA and Employment Law

Wednesday, December 16th

See below for the full schedule with program descriptions,
dates, times and links to register for each webinar event.
Continue reading

Expect More Comprehensive OSHA Inspections Under a New “Enforcement Weighting System”

By Amanda R. Strainis-Walker and Eric J. Conn

Over the course of the next year, employers can expect to see longer, more comprehensive OSHA inspections that focus on complex safety and health hazards. This change is associated with OSHA’s new enforcement protocol it refers to as the “Enforcement Weighting System” that uses a new metric called the “Enforcement Unit.”

Historically, OSHA operated under the assumption that more inspections are better. OSHA’s philosophy was that the more workplaces that OSHA is able to inspected, the greater the impact OSHA would have on safety and health, and the more employees it would be able to protect. At the end of every year, the national office would produce data and graphs showing the number of inspections, and gave no consideration for the different types of inspections or the range of complexity of the issues faced in each inspection. It was the classic quota protocol with the classic weaknesses that quota cause – driving enforcement to the simplest, quickest hitting inspections available.

A traditional inspection at a small construction site can last as little as a couple of hours with only one compliance officer, whereas a wall-to-wall inspection at a petrochemical manufacturing plant could last days, if not months, requiring multiple compliance officers and specialists. Under OSHA’s historical tracking system, both of those types of inspections were counted as the same unit of Inspection Weighting 2measure – one inspection. To account for this wide variation in resources that inspections can consume, in personnel and man hours, OSHA has adopted the new Enforcement Weighting System.

The new tracking system kicked in at the start of the new federal fiscal year. OSHA piloted the system over the two previous fiscal years. At the core of the new Enforcement Weighting System is the introduction of a new unit of measure for inspections – the Enforcement Unit. Different types of inspections are assigned a different number of Enforcement Units. For example, the simple, small construction site inspection would be assigned a single Enforcement Unit, whereas the wall to wall chemical facility inspection would receive seven Enforcement Units.

Enforcement Units will be the new metric that OSHA’s national office evaluates at the end of the fiscal year and tracks from year-to-year to evaluate enforcement performance of its various regions and area offices.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Dr. David Michaels, explained in the Memorandum announcing the Enforcement Weighting System:

While [the old] metric served a useful purpose, it penalized those field managers that took on more complex inspections that require a great amount of CSHO effort.

The new Enforcement Weighting System is designed to Continue reading

OSHA’s New “Non-Mandatory” Workplace Violence Guidance for Healthcare Employers

By Eric J. Conn and Kathryn M. McMahon

In April 2015, OSHA released new “Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Health Care and Social Services Workers,” reflecting a few years of work updating an existing set of guidelines in this area from 2004.  The development of this update was driven by OSHA’s concern over the number of workplace violence incidents in the hospital, nursing care, and residential home health industries. 2013 BLS statistics show thatWorkplace Violence 70% of the 23,000 known workplace assaults occurred in the health care / social services industries.  The new Guidelines incorporate research that has been conducted since 2004 into the causes of workplace violence in health care settings, risk factors that accompany working with patients or clients who display violent behavior, and the appropriate preventive measures that can be taken.

OSHA’s Guidelines set forth a number of recommendations for healthcare organizations to consider implementing to prevent workplace violence, including:

  • Create a Written Zero-Tolerance Workplace Violence Prevention Program
  • Conduct Employee Training
  • Screen Patients for Potential Violence
  • Ensure Security Personnel are Available and Trained
  • Implement System to Flag Patient’s History of Violence

The new Guidelines are not so different in substance from the prior guidelines.  The publication generally follows the same outline and presents a similar set of recommendations to what was included in the 2004 publication.  Specifically, OSHA continues to emphasize the importance of developing a comprehensive written workplace violence prevention program.  The program elements recommended include the same elements listed in the 2004 guidelines (and virtually identical to the elements included in the original 1996 guidelines), which mimic the five basic components of an injury and illness prevention program:

  1. Management commitment and worker participation;
  2. Worksite analysis and hazard identification;
  3. Hazard prevention and control;
  4. Safety and health training; and
  5. Recordkeeping and program evaluation.

The biggest difference between the new version and the 2004 version is Continue reading

A Healthy Dose of OSHA Enforcement Coming to the Healthcare Industry

By Eric J. Conn and Kathryn M. McMahon

On June 25, 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an Enforcement Memorandum entitled: Inspection Guidance for Inpatient Healthcare Settings.  Health Initiative 1The Enforcement Memorandum expands the scope of inspections OSHA will conduct at hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities as part of an on-going enforcement effort targeting the healthcare industry.

OSHA’s Healthcare Enforcement Initiative

OSHA’s healthcare enforcement initiative covers “Hospitals” (NAICS 622) and “Nursing and residential care facilities” (NAICS 623). It requires all OSHA inspections (whether programmed or in response to an incident of complaint) in the covered industries to include an evaluation of the following five major hazards:

  • Ergonomics (i.e., musculoskeletal disorders from patient/resident handling);
  • Bloodborne pathogens;
  • Workplace violence;
  • Tuberculosis; and
  • Slips, trips and falls.

This initiative follows the April 2015 expiration of the Nursing Home National Emphasis Program, which also focused on similar hazards.

OSHA’s increased scrutiny of the healthcare industry can be attributed to Continue reading