Fed OSHA and State OSH Plans Address Ventilation to Reduce the Workplace Spread of COVID-19

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

While each week seems to bring news of new COVID-19 rules imposed by a state, county or city, federal OSHA continues to offer guidance of which employers should take notice.  Earlier this month, on November 5th, OSHA issued a new publication focused on ways employers can use ventilation to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 virus droplets through the air in their workplaces.

“Ensuring adequate ventilation throughout the work environment can help to maintain a safe and healthy workplace.”

The guidance provides a window into the types of questions OSHA may ask during future COVID-related inspections, and could be referenced as support for General Duty Clause violations.  Employees, as well as lawyers representing individuals bringing wrongful death actions on behalf of deceased employees, may also question why an employer opted not to evaluate ventilation systems and take some or all of the steps recommended by OSHA.

We had been bracing for guidance or regulatory requirements related to ventilation, with concerns that it would require capital projects to overhaul existing HVAC systems.  But fortunately, this guidance does not go that far, and in fact, most of the recommended steps are not particularly burdensome.  For example, OSHA suggests working with a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) specialist to ensure the employer’s HVAC systems are fully functional.  OSHA also recommends that employers open windows or provide other sources of fresh air wherever possible, and leave restroom exhaust fans on continuously while operating at maximum capacity — steps that can be achieved without infrastructure changes to the workplace.

More burdensome than leaving a bathroom fan running or a window open, however, OSHA also advises installing air filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating of 13 or higher, where feasible (i.e., where the system can handle it), and using portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to increase clean air, especially in higher-risk areas.

When working with an HVAC specialist, the guidance recommends that employers also should confirm that Continue reading

Oregon to Issue COVID-19 Temporary Standard in Early November (Compliance Deadlines in Early December)

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

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.

For the majority of employers, the OR ETS will require them to take steps and adopt measures that are similar, if not identical, to those we discussed in our blog posts regarding Virginia OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS and Michigan OSHA’s new COVID-19 emergency rules.  At its core, the emergency standard will require employers to develop and implement:

  1. COVID-19 Exposure Risk Assessments
  2. A Written COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan
  3. COVID-19 and Exposure Control Training
  4. Specific Engineering and Administrative Controls

We detail those 4 core requirements below. 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

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