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

BREAKING: OSHA Issues Enforcement Policy Relaxing Regulatory Compliance During the COVID-19 Crisis

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

The Coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for employers that are attempting to meet OSHA regulatory obligations – such as annual training, auditing, testing, medical surveillance requirements, and the like – without creating greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 for their employees.  This evening (April 16, 2020), OSHA issued a new Enforcement Memorandum acknowledging that reality.  The enforcement memo, entitled “Discretion in Enforcement when Considering an Employer’s Good Faith Efforts During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic,” provides enforcement relief for employers who exercise good faith in the context of this extraordinary health crisis.

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

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

By Eric J. Conn and Beeta B. Lashkari

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

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

These EOs were designed to, according to the President:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Court Denies Motion to Stay OSHA’s Enforcement of Anti-Retaliation Elements of E-Recordkeeping Rule

By Eric J. Conn

By Law the Anti-Retaliation Provisions of OSHA’s New Electronic Recordkeeping Rule Become Effective December 1st — Tomorrow!

On November 28, 2016, the federal district court Judge in the Northern District of Texas hearing Industry’s legal challenge to the anti-retaliation portions of OSHA’s new electronic recordkeeping rule (i.e., limits on injury reporting requirements, post-incident drug testing, and safety incentive programs), pi-rulingissued an Order denying Industry’s motion for a preliminary injunction that would have prohibited OSHA from enforcing these controversial new provisions. The Court’s Order clears the way for the new provisions to become effective and enforceable as of December 1, 2016.

Accordingly, it is not only prudent but perhaps imperative that employers immediately evaluate their safety incentive programs; drug testing programs; management bonus compensation schemes; and injury reporting policies to determine whether they comport with the new rule.

The rule adds new language to OSHA’s injury and illness recordkeeping regulation at 29 C.F.R. 1904.35(b)(1):

“reasonable procedure for employees to report work related injuries and illnesses promptly and accurately. . . .  [A reporting procedure] is not reasonable if it would deter or discourage a reasonable employee from accurately reporting a workplace injury or illness.”

Because this language is so broad and vague, it is impossible to understand from the face of the rule what policies and conduct are required or prohibited.  OSHA acknowledged that, as well, and Continue reading

OSHA Issues Guidance on Recordkeeping Anti-Retaliation Rule – Even with the Fate of the Rule in Question

By Eric J. Conn and Dan C. Deacon

OSHA’s new electronic injury recordkeeping rule includes anti-retaliation provisions that create new employer obligations and prohibitions related to internal employee injury reporting procedures, and expands OSHA’s enforcement authority by introducing a vague new set of anti-retaliation provisions.  Particularly controversial is the impact of OSHA’s new rule on employers’ policies for post-injury drug testing, safety incentive programs, and executive compensation and bonusesRK Rule FRUntil very recently, employers have seen little guidance about what OSHA means by reasonable reporting procedures or what types of policies may violate the new anti-retaliation provisions.

On October 19, 2016, OSHA issued a Guidance Memorandum offering its interpretation of the vague, controversial anti-retaliation provisions of OSHA’s new electronic injury and illness recordkeeping rule.  The timing of OSHA’s issuance of the October Guidance is particularly noteworthy, given developments in the legal challenge filed by Industry plaintiffs in a federal district court in Texas (TEXO ABC/AGC, Inc., et al. v. Perez, Civil Action No. 3:16-cv-01998-D), which we have described in previous articles.  Specifically, just one week before issuing the Guidance Memo, OSHA deferred the enforcement effective date of the anti-retaliation provisions, for the second time, from November 1st to December 1st.  This second delay of the anti-retaliation rule was done at the specific request of the Texas judge overseeing the case, who is considering industry’s request for a Preliminary Injunction.

The Guidance is not unexpected.  Amidst growing frustration from Industry about the rule and its lack of clarity, OSHA promised last summer when it decided to first postpone the enforcement date from August 1, 2016 to November 1, 2016, to publish guidance explaining the new provisions.  Indeed, OSHA’s defense against Industry’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the rule is that there is no way Industry can show irreparable harm from the new rule because there was no way for employers to know what the rule actually prohibits and requires.

Before this Guidance Memo was released, OSHA had provided little understanding of precisely what Continue reading