by Brianna Crandall — June 8, 2020 — The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has adopted revised policies for enforcing OSHA’s requirements with respect to COVID-19 as economies reopen in states throughout the country.
Throughout the course of the pandemic, understanding about the transmission and prevention of infection has improved. The government and the private sector have taken rapid and evolving measures to slow the virus’s spread, protect employees, and adapt to new ways of doing business.
Now, as states begin reopening their economies, OSHA has issued two revised enforcement policies to ensure employers are taking action to protect their employees.
First, OSHA is increasing in-person inspections at all types of workplaces. The new enforcement guidance reflects changing circumstances in which many non-critical businesses have begun to reopen in areas of lower community spread. The risk of transmission is lower in specific categories of workplaces, and personal protective equipment (PPE) potentially needed for inspections is more widely available. OSHA staff will continue to prioritize COVID-19 inspections, and will utilize all enforcement tools as OSHA has historically done.
Second, OSHA is revising its previous enforcement policy for recording cases of coronavirus. Under OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements, coronavirus is a “recordable illness,” and employers are responsible for recording cases of the coronavirus, if the case:
- Is confirmed as a coronavirus illness;
- Is work-related as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5; and
- Involves one or more of the general recording criteria in 29 CFR 1904.7, such as medical treatment beyond first aid or days away from work.
Given the nature of the disease and community spread, however, in many instances it remains difficult to determine whether a coronavirus illness is work-related, especially when an employee has experienced potential exposure both in and out of the workplace. OSHA’s guidance emphasizes that employers must make reasonable efforts, based on the evidence available to the employer, to ascertain whether a particular case of coronavirus is work-related.
Recording a coronavirus illness does not mean that the employer has violated any OSHA standard. Following existing regulations, employers with 10 or fewer employees and certain employers in low hazard industries have no recording obligations; they need only report work-related coronavirus illnesses that result in a fatality or an employee’s in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye.
Social distancing alerts
In recent weeks, OSHA also issued an alert listing steps employers can follow to implement social distancing in the workplace and to help protect workers from exposure to the coronavirus, available in English and Spanish.
OSHA also continued its efforts to provide detailed, industry-specific guidance for several industries that each face unique challenges in keeping workers safe from coronavirus. OSHA’s compliance assistant tools are available to all employers to help protect workers from hazards.
The newly released guidance documents include:
- Alert for Dental Industry Practitioners
- Alert for Rideshare, Taxi and Car Service Workers
- Alert for Retail Pharmacy Workers
- Alert for Nursing Home and Long-Term Care Facility Workers
For further information on actions OSHA is taking on behalf of US workers as well as resources about the coronavirus disease, visit OSHA’s COVID-19 Safety and Health Topics webpage.