On August 2, 2021, OSHA announced a new Regional Emphasis Program (“REP”) focused on transportation tank cleaning operations in the rail and truck shipping industries. This is the second REP launched in Region 5 in less than a month; on June 14, 2021, OSHA commenced an REP to address hazardous noise levels in the Midwest. Employers who perform tank cleaning operations in Region 5, which covers Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Indiana, would be well-advised to dust off their copy of Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s OSHA Inspection Toolkit and take the necessary steps to ensure they are ready for the inspections that will begin before the end of the year.
Why Is OSHA Targeting Tank Cleaning Operations?
In the REP and accompanying press release, OSHA places a special emphasis on the dangers posed by the exposure to toxic fumes from cleaning chemicals or stored products that can build up inside a storage tank, as well as risks of fire or explosion when a worker must handle volatile materials in confined spaces. Additionally, OSHA warns that the workers cleaning these tanks may “face many serious and potentially deadly hazards caused by toxic fumes from chemicals, decaying crops, waste and other substances that can expose workers to suffocation, fires and explosions.” OSHA also highlighted several fatal accidents that occurred in the Midwest, noting that Region 5 has investigated 23 worker deaths and 97 incidents in the transportation and tank cleaning industries since 2016. According to OSHA, the hazards most often found during these inspections involved the failure to prevent the inhalation of harmful substances and to follow procedures for permit-required confined space requirements.
We know that many of our friends in the healthcare industry are knee-deep analyzing Fed OSHA’s new COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) and making adjustments to COVID-19 protocols and programs to quickly come into compliance with this onerous new regulation. Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s COVID-19 Taskforce has carefully reviewed all 1,000+ pages of the ETS, its Preamble, and the rest of the supporting documentation, and has participated in several discussions with senior leadership at OSHA about thorny provisions of the rule, so we have a good understanding of what is required. To help you understand precisely what is required of your covered facilities, and to assist with compliance implementation, we have prepared summaries of all the major requirements of the ETS below.
Hazard Assessments and COVID-19 Plans
One of the first steps employers must take is to conduct a hazard assessment of your operations to determine those areas where risk of virus transmission exists, and to then develop a response plan for dealing with those risks. The hazard assessment findings and your plans for transmission mitigation must be incorporated into a written COVID-19 Plan. Here is a summary of the ETS requirements for conducting the hazard assessment and preparing a written plan.
29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(c) requires all employers covered by the ETS to develop and implement a COVID-19 Plan for each workplace. If the employer has more than 10 employees, the Plan must be written. This summary describes the requirements associated with the COVID-19 Plan.
Before developing the Plan, employers must conduct a workplace specific hazard assessment for the purpose of identifying and understanding where potential COVID-19 hazards exist and what controls must be implemented to reduce those hazards. Employers must inspect the entire workplace and the hazard assessment should: Continue reading →
Today’s topic on the Fed OSHA COVID-19 ETS is training.
29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(n) requires that all employers covered by the ETS provide training to their employees. To the extent that the employer has already provided training and that training is compliant with the standard, the employer does not need to re-train employees. This summary describes the training requirements of the ETS.
If the employer has already provided training related to COVID-19, but the previous training did not cover all the elements required by the ETS, the employer must offer training on the elements it had not previously addressed.
As with other OSHA standards, the training required by the ETS must be administered at a literacy level and in a language employees understand. The trainer must be a person knowledgeable in the topics covered by the training and how they apply to the employee’s specific job tasks. Additionally, the training should be interactive, providing an opportunity for interactive questions and answers. An employer may satisfy the interactive requirement even if the employer offers a virtual training if the employer makes available a qualified trainer to address questions after the training or offers a telephone hotline where employees may ask questions.
The training must be designed to allow employees to understand the following: Continue reading →
ANNOUNCING CONN MACIEL CAREY’S
2021 OSHA WEBINAR SERIES
As the Trump Administration hands over the keys to President-Elect Biden and a new Democratic Administration, OSHA’s enforcement and regulatory landscape is set to change in dramatic ways, from shifting enforcement priorities, budgets and policies, to efforts to reignite OSHA’s rulemaking apparatus. Following an Administration that never installed an Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, handled COVID-19 enforcement with a light touch, pumped the brakes on almost all rulemaking in general, and declined to issue an emergency COVID-19 standard in particular, the pendulum swing at OSHA is likely to be more pronounced than during past transitions. Accordingly, it is more important now than ever before to pay attention to OSHA developments.
Conn Maciel Carey’s complimentary 2021 OSHA Webinar Series, which includes (at least) monthly programs put on by the attorneys in the firm’s national OSHA Practice, is designed to give employers insight into developments at OSHA during this period of flux and unpredictability.
To register for an individual webinar in the series, click on the link in the program description below. To register for the entire 2021 series, click here to send us an email request, and we will register you. If you missed any of our programs from the past seven years of our annual OSHA Webinar Series, click here to subscribe to our YouTube channel to access those webinars.
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].”
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 complimentary2020 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.