OSHA recently issued a compliance directive for enforcing its new COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS). Non-exempt employers were required to be in compliance with all provisions of the ETS by July 21, 2021. Below is a summary of what OSHA compliance officers will be checking for in their enforcement efforts.
The COVID-19 ETS, which became effective June 21, 2021, established new safety requirements for settings where employees provide healthcare or healthcare support services, based on the reasoning that these workers face the highest risk of contracting coronavirus at work. Covered employers include hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, ambulatory healthcare facilities, and employers of emergency responders and home healthcare workers. Exceptions are made for non-hospital ambulatory care settings where all non-employees are screened prior to entry and people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are not permitted to enter. Also, well-defined hospital ambulatory care settings are excluded if all employees are fully vaccinated, all non-employees are screened prior to entry, and people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are not permitted to enter. Further, home healthcare settings get a pass if all employees are fully vaccinated, all non-employees are screened prior to entry, and people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are not present.
In broad strokes, officers have been directed to inspect whether non-exempt employers meet the following requirements.
Written COVID-19 plan
Employers must have a COVID-19 plan that contains certain requirement elements and, for those employers with more than 10 employees, the plan must be in writing.
Patient/non-employee screening and management
Where direct patient care is provided, employers must limit the number of entrances to the facility, screen patients, residents, and non-employees for symptoms of COVID-19, and follow the CDC’s COVID-19 infection prevention and control recommendations. Screening and management procedures must be included in the employer’s COVID-19 plan.
Personal protective equipment
Employers must provide and ensure the use of PPE, such as facemasks, goggles, gowns, and respirators, as outlined in the ETS.
When aerosol-generating procedures – defined as medical procedures that generate aerosols that can be infectious and are of respirable size – are performed on a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, employers must take extra precautions, including limiting personnel and using airborne infection isolation rooms and special cleaning/disinfection procedures.
Physical distancing can include remote work arrangements, staggered arrival/departure/break times, reducing the number of people in an area at one time, and visual cues such as signs indicating where to stand. Compliance officers will establish, through employer and employee interviews, the means by which the employer ensures that physical distancing is maintained between employees, and how quickly corrective actions are taken if and when necessary.
Physical barriers are required between employees at fixed workstations who are located less than six feet apart, except in direct patient care areas, resident rooms or where the employer can demonstrate the barriers are not feasible.
Cleaning and disinfecting
High-touch surfaces and equipment must be cleaned at least once a day. When a COVID-19-positive person has been in the workplace within the last 24 hours, the employer must both clean and disinfect. The employer must also provide hand rub that is at least 60 percent alcohol or provide readily accessible hand washing facilities.
There are special requirements for ventilation systems that only apply to employers who own or control buildings or structures with existing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. Employers may be cited if compliance officers determine they are not adequately implementing and/or maintaining their systems in accordance with the standard.
Employee health screening/medical management
Through interviews and records review, compliance officers will seek to determine if employees are being screened for COVID-19 symptoms before each workday and each shift. Screening methods can be flexible; employers may screen employees in-person or ask employees to self-monitor before reporting to work, and methods can include temperature checks, employee questionnaires and electronic screening apps.
Employers must provide employees with reasonable time off during work hours and paid leave for the full vaccination series and any side effects experienced. Generally, this means up to four hours of paid leave for each dose plus up to 16 additional hours of leave for any side effects (eight hours per dose). Officers may conduct interviews to determine if the employer actively discourages or hinders employees from getting vaccinated.
Employers must provide COVID-19 safety training with a qualified trainer at no cost to employees. Whether in-person or online, employees must have an opportunity to ask questions. Inspectors may determine through interviews whether employees can demonstrate knowledge and comprehension of what’s covered in the training.
Employers are prohibited from discharging or discriminating against any employee for exercising their right to the protections under the ETS. Further, employers are required to inform all employees of their rights, including their right to protection from retaliation.
Requirements at no cost
Employers must meet all elements of the ETS without shifting the cost of things like PPE and training to employees. OSHA considers costs to include not only direct monetary expenses, but also the time and other expenses necessary to perform required tasks.
Employers must retain and be able to make available all versions (not drafts) of their COVID-19 plan in addition to maintaining a COVID-19 log for at least as long as the ETS stays in effect. This record retention does not apply to employers with 10 or fewer employees nationwide.
Reporting to OSHA
Employers must report work-related COVID-19 fatalities to OSHA within eight hours of learning about the fatality and each work-related COVID-19 inpatient hospitalization within 24 hours of learning about the hospitalization.
If you have questions about the ETA or OSHA compliance in general, or if you are looking to contest an OSHA citation or prepare for the OSHA inspection process, give us a call. The OSHA lawyers at Sheehy Ware and Pappas have deep expertise in all kinds of OSHA matters ranging from compliance to OSHA lawsuits.