Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
ClickSafety is joining the effort in communicating our industry knowledge to provide current information appropriate to assist in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the workplace. As the impacts of this pandemic continue to develop, sources of information are being shared constantly, every day and certainly the world of occupational health and safety is not immune.
Workplace Safety Guidelines
In these uncertain times, organizations are scrambling to do what is necessary to follow federal, state, local, tribal, and/or territorial (SLTT) guidance and recommendations as well as implement best management practices to keep their employees (and families) healthy and safe. OSHA has taken steps to advise employers how to best manage the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for others which may arise in the future. These recommendations include:
- Developing a comprehensive Infection and Disease Preparedness Program that plans for contingencies and addresses the following:
- Sources of worker exposure
- Completing employee risk assessments utilizing the four risk levels of the COVID-19 Occupational Risk Pyramid
- Implementing the Hierarchy of Controls
- Engineering Controls
- Increased ventilation
- Physical barriers
- Administrative Controls
- Employee Training
- Use of virtual communication
- Alternating days and shifts (to reduce worker population)
- Personal Protective Equipment
- Respirators (e.g. N95, other filtering face-piece types)
- Eye and Face protection (e.g. Face shields)
- Continuance of essential operations with increased absenteeism
- Engineering Controls
- Development of flexible business policies during pandemic emergencies
- Sick leave is consistent with public health guidance
- Halt requirement for “doctors notes” upon return to work
- Accommodate the need for employees to care for sick family members
- Providing adequate training regarding business practices, policies and workplace controls
- Working with insurance providers and health agencies to provide updated information and education about the pandemic
- Continued compliance with the OSHA General Duty Clause through providing every worker with “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
In addition to issuing the Guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19, OSHA has also implemented a temporary enforcement halt on respiratory fit testing requirements and related enforcement specifically targeted at healthcare employees. This enforcement halt is in effect from March 14, 2020 until further notice. It reduces fit testing requirements from quantitative (machine measurement) to qualitative (relies on scent of smell or taste for detection) for N95 respirators. OSHA field offices also have the choice to refrain from citing an employer for violations of select fit testing requirements. On May 26 2020, OSHA announced the launch of a website for construction employers and their workers which provides coronavirus-related guidance. The website highlights recommended actions to reduce the risk of exposure for workers engaged in construction-related activities, with the goal of providing guidance to reduce the spread of the virus and identify available testing. The website provides information on engineering and administrative controls workers can use and highlights the importance of implementing coronavirus prevention measures in response to the changing conditions of the pandemic.
Injury and Illness Reporting
OSHA is also reminding employers that COVID-19 is not exempt from injury and illness reporting, as regulated under 29 CFR 1904 Subpart E. Employees who contract COVID-19 at work, must be recorded on OSHA Form 300 (Log of Work-related injuries and illnesses). While common colds and flu are generally exempt from recordkeeping requirements even if contracted at work, COVID-19 is not exempt and is classified as a recordable illness. For further information regarding determination of work-relatedness, OSHA guidance is found in 29 CFR 1904.5
Personal Protective Equipment
As businesses across the nation begin to alter their way of doing business to minimize the spread of COVID-19, which includes construction projects in many SLTT jurisdictions, many in the business community are coming together and taking steps to protect those still in occupational settings which expose them to COVID-19 by donating materials including PPE such as N95 respirators.
As we are all aware, the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to make an enormous impact on the United States. The unprecedented steps OSHA is making to assist employers in complying with regulatory requirements while balancing work tasks and keeping employees safe are significant. However, many organizations are finding themselves unprepared for the consequences of this pandemic on their operations and their employees. As a result, it is important for organizations to focus their efforts on current COVID-19 response efforts and to plan for the possibility of future pandemics by creating and implementing effective Infection and Disease Preparedness Programs which wouldn’t be complete without comprehensive worker training and education.
Our safety experts are monitoring developments closely and will provide information as we get it on the latest regulatory changes. We also have four new online courses to help your team navigate these challenging times.
- Filtering Facepiece Respirators Awareness for All Industries
- Handwashing and Illness Prevention in the Workplace for All Industries
- OSH Guidance on Viral Exposure for All Industries
- Home Office & Telecommuting Safety Considerations for All Industries
For additional information regarding the regulatory updates in response to COVID-19, including assigning appropriate worker training and suggestions for ways to navigate through this pandemic and help keep your employees safe, contact ClickSafety today.
In light of the OSHA N95 respirator shortage, N95 alternatives, such as K95 respirators and similar alternatives are being temporarily permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration during this dire situation. While obtaining these alternate options, until larger inventory of N95 respirators are available in the United States, OSHA is continuing to recommend the use of engineering and administrative controls to reduce the need for formal respiratory protection.
Update 4/9/20 - AGC Nationwide Coronavirus Safety Stand Down
OSHA delayed their Annual May National Safety Stand Down due to these unique and difficult times. However, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) has stepped up and has encouraged U.S. industry participants to take part in the April Nationwide Coronavirus Safety Stand Down. The AGC Nationwide Coronavirus Safety Stand Down participation involved a best management practice of providing 5-10 minute “Safety Stand Down COVID-19” or similar toolbox talks from Wednesday, April 8 through Friday, April 10 to drive home the importance of this issue. AGC is also reminding job sites to comply with social distancing while participating in this initiative. This required more than one meeting with rotating audiences of fewer than 10 to maintain social distancing protocol of 6 feet or more.
Update 4/10/20 - OSHA Covid-19 Social Distancing
OSHA officials are receiving thousands of complaints from employees related to COVID-19, including 1,300 specifically to Oregon OSHA. Businesses who are out of compliance are subject to a penalty, which could include a maximum fine of $126,749.00. OSHA is actively working with employers during this difficult time and do not expect fines to reach the maximum; however, OSHA is reminding employers of the importance of following social (physical) distancing guidelines and that retaliation against employees whom report non-compliance is subject to additional penalties.
Update 4/13/20 - MSHA Online Training Guidance
As of April 13, 2020, exemptions to training recertifications will not be granted during the COVID-19 pandemic. MSHA has, however, issued guidance to support online training as an option to satisfy the annual recertification training requirement. Due dates for annual training requirements will be extended indefinitely while the government is operating under the President’s emergency declaration, however, annual refresher training must still be completed., although ”required by” dates have not been set by MSHA.
Note: The views and opinions in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of OSHA, the CDC or other organizations. Statements in this blog do not comprise medical or legal advice and are subject to change, particularly with respect to evolving public health issues and related guidance. We advise all readers to carefully monitor developments and advice of OSHA, CDC, WHO, and other public health experts and officials.
Update 4/22/20 - OSHA Discretion in Enforcement
The U.S. Department of Labor and OSHA have released additional guidance related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Evidenced by the sizeable amount of received reports, OSHA acknowledges the challenges U.S. employers are facing not only with regards to regular operations to continue business and support their employees, but also to continue to comply with mandated OSHA regulations. Due to the current circumstances, OSHA’s additional guidance allows for “good faith efforts” by most U.S. employers. This initiative allows OSHA Compliance Officers the flexibility to evaluate the management practices of employers in order to keep their employees safe.
Employers are expected to show “good faith” in abiding by OSHA regulations through exploring all options available to meet compliance with OSHA regulations. This includes utilizing online and virtual training to demonstrate their efforts to comply with applicable regulations. Where employers are not able to demonstrate a “good faith effort” a citation may be issued. However, where an employer has taken all attempts to comply with the regulations, OSHA compliance officers will take “strong consideration in determining whether to cite a violation.” This is an opportunity for employers to show their commitment to employee safety through this U.S. public emergency by continuing to support their employees, through multimedia efforts, most practicably online training.
This enforcement memo takes effect immediately and stays in effect until further notice from the Department of Labor.
Previous regulations outlined disposable filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs), like N95s, were not approved for reuse as a standard of care. During these times of shortage, the FDA, on March 29, 2020, issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) which outlines guidance for FFR decontamination and reuse.
In the United States, FFR decontamination units, such as ultraviolet irradiation, microwavable steam and heat incubation are available, but limited in use. For this reason, reuse of FFRs is becoming a widely considered method for employers, especially those in the healthcare industry.
A study released by the New England Journal of Medicine which evaluated the persistence of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) revealed the virus is capable of surviving on multiple surfaces for up to 72-hours. This data heightens the importance of effective reuse strategies.
The CDC recommends one reuse strategy to mitigate contact transfer though the issuance of five FFR to each person with one FFR being worn each day. At the end of each day, the FFRs are individually stored in a breathable paper bag. Each FFR would then “rest” for 5 days between use before being worn again.
How, and when, a facility decides to implement specific decontamination and/or reuse strategies is at their discretion and should be based on current and projected needs of availability of N95 respirators.
To review the March 29, 2020 FDA EUA issuance, the FDA website should be reviewed for the most up-to-date information, which includes additional EUAs. The CDC also recommends reviewing guidance individual FFR manufacturers.
Update 5/6/20 - New Translations Published for COVID-19 OSHA Poster
Originally published April 6, 2020, the “Ten Steps All Workplaces Can Take to Reduce Risk of Exposure to Coronavirus” poster is now available in 11 additional languages as an effort to further communicate with the population whose first language is neither English nor Spanish. Covered employers must post a copy in a conspicuous place at each workplace, in accordance with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The requirements can be found here: Workplace Posters.
Update 5/17/20 - WHO Advises Against the Broad Use of Spray Disinfectants to Kill COVID-19 Virus
On May 16, 2020, the World Health Organization released guidance on cleaning and disinfecting environmental surfaces as they relate to the COVID-19 pandemic. This advisory specifically referenced the use of spray disinfectants to kill the COVID-19 virus. WHO cited case studies demonstrating that spraying disinfectants (also known as misting or showering an area with droplets of liquids) across indoor spaces can cause more harm than good; using disinfectants in this manner risks exposure to chemicals such as chlorine and formaldehyde compounds, which can cause irritation to the eyes, respiratory system, and skin. WHO is not recommending broad use of spray disinfectants due to these adverse health effects to workers.
WHO maintains that frequent hand washing and avoidance of touching the face continue to be the primary prevention approaches. However, should it be necessary to apply disinfectants, they should be applied with a cloth or wipe that has been soaked in the disinfectant, as opposed to spraying the area with the disinfectant.
Update 5/20/20 - U.S. Department of Labor Adopts Revised Enforcement Policies For Coronavirus
On May 19, 2020, OSHA announced the adoption of revised policies for enforcing its regulatory requirements as they relate to coronavirus. As U.S. state economies begin to reopen, OSHA released two revised policies that ensure employers are taking the actions necessary to protect their employees. The new enforcement guidance identifies an increase of in-person inspections, with prioritization of coronavirus-related inspections. In addition, the previously issued guidance on occupational record keeping of coronavirus cases has been revised; the updated policy includes specific guidance on what constitutes coronavirus as a recordable illness under the OSHA 29 CFR 1904 record keeping requirements. In addition, OSHA is emphasizing that employers make reasonable efforts to establish, based on OSHA’s guidance, if each encountered case is a work-related illness. Both revised policies are effective as of May 19, 2020.
Update 6/15/20 - U.S. Department of Labor Issues Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About Face Coverings, Surgical Masks, and Respirators in the Workplace
As businesses around the country begin the process of reopening, questions surrounding the proper use of masks in the workplace continue to roll into OSHA. In response, OSHA is prepared to help both workers and employers understand how to properly wear masks to promote safe and healthy workplaces. Guidance provided by OSHA discusses a common question: the differences among cloth face coverings, surgical masks, and respirators. The OSHA FAQs further emphasize the need to utilize social distancing measures while masks are worn, as recommended by similar guidance provided by the CDC. This new guidance adds to the library of other documents previously released by OSHA expanding upon the subject of respirators.
Update 6/22/20 - As More Businesses Reopen, Worker Safety and Health Remain U.S. Department of Labor Priority
As businesses in the United States are reopening, the Department of Labor is reminding employers that in all phases of reopening, workplace safety remains a priority. OSHA is encouraging employers to plan for hazards, both those related to coronavirus and those from routine workplace operations. In addition to following existing coronavirus-related guidance, employers should carefully plan before increasing production to avoid exposure to safety and health hazards. OSHA is recommending employers provide “refreshers” to address issues that may have been deferred during shutdown. These refreshers are aimed at workplace safety and health programs, which could include regulatory topics such as lockout-tagout for periods of maintenance, risks during start-up and shutdown, and anticipation of possible exposure to stagnant or expired chemicals. Finally, as part of the reopening effort, employers should be cognizant of their obligation to adhere to Section 5(a)1 of the OSH Act of 1970, known as the General Duty Clause.
Update 8/4/20 - OSHA FAQ Guidance for Medial Masks & Face
Conversations surrounding the use of face coverings continue to evolve as the COVID-19 pandemic remains ever-present in our lives. While OSHA has not published guidance regarding the use of masks relative to COVID-19, it continues to encourage workers to use medical masks or cloth face coverings to aid in preventing the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace. However, questions about the use of these masks and face coverings still remain. To assist in answering questions and to take up inaccurate claims, OSHA has developed FAQ guidance. This guidance offers recommendations surrounding the use of medical masks and face coverings, as well as addresses concerns about oxygen and carbon dioxide levels as a result of extended mask use.
Source: OSHA. Guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19, Guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19 (2020).
Update 8/31/20 - OSHA Assessing Employer’s Good Faith Efforts Towards Compliance
OSHA’s discretion in enforcement when assessing an employer’s good faith efforts towards compliance continues to remain in effect. Employers are urged to explore methods to maintain compliance with applicable OSHA regulations during the ongoing COVID-19 health emergency. OSHA is allowing for Agency Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) to assess whether “good faith efforts” to comply with applicable regulations are being met. This includes assessing whether employers have explored all options to comply with required standards, including mandated training. Examples of good faith efforts are said to include the use of virtual training or other remote communication strategies to meet compliance obligations. This CSHO memorandum went into effect on April 16, 2020 and remains effective until further notice. Employers are urged to frequently check OSHA’s webpage for updates relating to this and other compliance notifications relevant to the current public health crisis.
OSHA. (2020, March 14). DOL Issues Temporary Enforcement Guidance for Respiratory Fit Testing in the Healthcare Industry. Retrieved March 17, 2020, from https://www.osha.gov/news/newsreleases/national/03142020
Update 11/18/20 - OSHA Standards
While OSHA has not passed a set of standards specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, workplace inspections have continued throughout the United States. Through October 22, 2020, OSHA reports having cited 144 business establishments for violations related to coronavirus; these citations have been in regard to standing regulatory requirements, including the following:
Respiratory protection training
Personal protective equipment training
Implementation of a written respiratory protection program
Conducting medical evaluations and respiratory fit testing
Injury and illness reporting
Use of OSHA recordkeeping forms
Compliance with the OSHA General Duty Clause
The proposed penalties as a result of these citations have totaled $2,856,533.00.
On January 22, 2021, the President issued an Executive Order focused on Protecting Worker Health and Safety through efforts to be undertaken by OSHA. This Executive Order directs the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to intensify its efforts to protect employees from COVID-19 infection stemming from the workplace, through the following actions:
Issuing a revised COVID-19 Workplace Guidance by February 4, 2021;
Performing a needs evaluation and subsequent issuance of emergency temporary standards on COVID-19, including workplace mask use, by March 21, 2021;
Launching a national program to focus OSHA enforcement efforts on COVID-19–related violations; and
Developing and delivering a national multilingual campaign informing employees of their rights.
The Executive Order proclaims the health and safety of workers as a “national and moral imperative,” and the above steps are part of a larger effort to keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure.
On January 22, 2021, the President issued an Executive Order focused on protecting worker health and safety. OSHA responded to this Executive Order on January 29, 2021 by introducing stronger guidelines aimed at helping employers implement coronavirus protection programs. The OSHA guidance includes the following suggested COVID-19 prevention program practices:
Performance of a hazard assessment
Identification of control measures to limit the spread of COVID-19
Adoption of policies intended to eliminate punitive actions for COVID-19 infection-related employee absences
Protection from retaliation for employees who raise concerns regarding the COVID-19
Assurance that communication of policies and procedures supports both English-speaking and non–English-speaking workers
The new OSHA guidance also outlines control measures that employees can use to reduce spread of COVID-19, including the following:
Use of face coverings
Removing people from the workplace who are or may be infected
Best practices for PPE, ventilation, cleaning, and hygiene
ClickSafety will regularly update this information as OSHA revises its guidance to reflect changes in standards and science-based developments surrounding COVID-19.