OSHA Has Adopted Revised Enforcement Policies Regarding Coronavirus, Affecting All Workplaces


OSHA’s Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19):

This document spells out priorities of inspections, specific procedures for compliance officers to follow, and even sample citations and hazard-alert letters.  The enforcement guidance varies depending upon whether community-spread COVID-19 cases have decreased in a geographic area, or whether they are sustained/elevated or resurging in a geographic area.  The inspection procedures and priorities vary also based upon workplace risk levels – High/Very High, Medium, and Low.  The guidance is applicable to all workplaces and industries, but focuses on High/Very High risk workplaces.  For both types of geographic areas, per the qualifications in the document, OSHA will prioritize inspections related to COVID-19.

In geographic areas where community spread has decreased, COVID-19 related inspections will be prioritized, and non-formal phone/fax methods as well as rapid response investigation procedures will be used, where applicable.

In geographic areas where community spread COVID-19 is still high, or where cases are resurging, COVID-19 inspections will be prioritized correlated to fatalities and imminent-danger situations.  The same non-formal and rapid response investigating procedures will be used where on-site inspections are not feasible. 

Formal complaints and referrals, in High/Very High Risk workplaces, and in areas with sustained/resurged community spread, especially those alleging inadequate personal protective equipment for employees, will be inspected, either on-site or remotely. 

Formal complaints in Medium and Low Risk workplaces might not result in an on-site inspection.  However, this is dependent upon responses to informal phone/fax inquiries.  Non-response or “inadequate” responses to such inquiries by OSHA will likely result in an on-site inspection. 

Modified Inspection Procedures:

The traditional opening conference may be conducted by phone.  Additional document review is also added.  Some documents that compliance officers are instructed to review include:

·         A written pandemic plan (as recommended by the CDC)

·         PPE hazard assessment and use protocols (related to COVID-19)

·         Employee medical records, of employees exposed to COVID-19, COVID-19 contraction, hospitalization, or precautionary removal/isolation from the workplace

·         Documentation of attempts to procure appropriate PPE for employees

·         For healthcare facilities, documentation and determination of airborne infection/isolation areas

·         Placement, transfer, and assignments of COVID-19 positive patients in healthcare facilities

·         Determine whether the employer has considered or implement the hierarchy of controls, regarding COVID-19 transmission prevention

During a walk around inspection, should it occur, compliance officers will be wearing appropriate PPE and following social distancing protocols and personal sanitation procedures.  Compliance officers will not enter the rooms of COVID-19 patients in healthcare facilities, nor will they take pictures of patients or obtain any personal identifying information of patients. 

There are a number of existing OSHA standards that compliance officers may base their inspections and citations upon, including:

·         Recordkeeping, 1904

·         PPE, 1910.132

·         Eye and Face Protection, 1910.133

·         Respiratory Protection, 1910.134

·         Sanitation, 1910.141

·         Accident Prevention Signs and Tags, 1910.145

·         Medical Record Access, 1910.1020

·         And most notably – the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1)

The General Duty Clause may be used to cite employers regarding COVID-19 exposures; however there are four specific criteria points that must be met, and all 5(a)(1) citations will be reviewed by both the Regional Administrator and the OSHA National Office prior to issuance.  So they will likely not be issued lightly. 

For High and Very High Risk workplaces, OSHA compliance officers will review the organization’s procurement attempts, distribution and prioritization of respiratory protection.  N95 filtering facepiece respirators are in a nationwide shortage and OSHA understands this.  However, they have issued previous guidance including a hierarchy of what types of respiratory protection employers in this category should attempt to procure and use. 

Compliance officers will also check for training records and documentation regarding PPE that is being used by employees for COVID-19 protection. 

In summary:

OSHA is receiving complaints from workers in non-essential businesses, and the prioritization of inspections regarding COVID-19 might mean that more employers will be inspected regarding their COVID-19 protocols.  High and Very High Risk workplaces are the emphasis, but this effort is not limited to healthcare.  OSHA references the CDC’s guidance documents as a good reference for employers to utilize when developing their own procedures.  Employers should write and adopt a pandemic plan (or add this on to their existing emergency preparedness plans), select and utilize appropriate PPE for workers, train workers accordingly, and utilize the hierarchy of controls. 

Summary by: Stash Dwornicki, NSCN Safety Consultant

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