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OSHA Publishes Guidance on Returning to Work

June 26, 2020 Leave a comment

AET Headshot Photo 2019 (M1344539xB1386)By: Amanda E. Thibodeau

On June 18, 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published Guidance on Returning to Work (the “Guide”). The Guide, just as with other recent COVID-19-related OSHA publications, was published as recommendations meant to assist employers, and does not impose new regulations or standards.

The Guide supplements OSHA’s previously published Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, and expands on the three-phased re-opening approach articulated in the White House’s Opening Up America Again:

  • Phase 1: Businesses should encourage telework where feasible. Where not feasible, businesses should consider limiting the number of people in the workplace to maintain proper social distancing. Flexibilities and accommodations for employees who are at high-risk of contracting the virus should be considered.
  • Phase 2: Businesses should continue to allow telework but can begin to ease up on social distancing protocols at the workplace.
  • Phase 3: Businesses may resume without restrictions at the workplaces.

The Guide then identifies nine key areas employers should assess when creating their re-opening plans, and provides examples to guide employers in each area:

  • Hazard assessment
  • Hygiene
  • Social distancing
  • Identification and isolation of sick employees
  • Return to work after illness or exposure
  • Controls
  • Workplace flexibilities
  • Training
  • Anti-retaliation

The Guide is not meant to cover every scenario or to provide the only solution to the various challenges that businesses may encounter when re-opening. Employers reviewing the Guide should keep in mind that that the Guide provides recommendations that should be read in the context of local re-opening regulations and recommendations from the CDC. It is important to keep up-to-date with the state and local orders and implement those directives within this framework provided by OSHA.

For more information, please contact Amanda Thibodeau.

OSHA Publishes FAQs on Face Coverings in the Workplace

June 17, 2020 Leave a comment

AET Headshot Photo 2019 (M1344539xB1386)By: Amanda E. Thibodeau

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently published additional recommendations in the form of FAQs related to the use of face masks in the workplace. The new guidance covers the differences between PPE, cloth face masks, and surgical masks, and what the current OSHA regulations require of employers. OSHA clarifies that the new FAQs do not place new regulatory burdens on employers, but are instead provided to assist employers in providing a safe workplace under current regulations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act’s General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), requires employers to provide their employees with “a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” This generally requires employers to adopt strategies and other control measures to protect their workers from known hazards. While cloth face coverings are encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), current OSHA regulations do not require cloth face coverings. However, OSHA does have regulations and standards on when PPE is required or recommended. It also notes that cloth face coverings or even surgical face masks are not a substitute for PPE, such as N95 masks, under OSHA’s PPE standards.

OSHA’s FAQs detail the differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks, and respirators, and the merits and protections of each. OSHA recommends that even though cloth face coverings are not required under its regulations, employers may choose to adopt such a policy as a control measure, and OSHA does encourage their use. OSHA notes, however, that whether an employer chooses to require or encourage masks will be highly dependent on the specific circumstances of each worker, workspace, and work requirements. In some instances, the wearing of a face covering may increase other hazards, and employers should be cognizant of evaluating such risks when forming any policies on face coverings. OSHA also emphasized that face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing measures, and employers must still adopt such strategies with or without face coverings.

OSHA additionally made clear that for industries or situations where respirators and other PPE are required by the presence of applicable workplace hazards, the regulations require that employers attempt other mitigation and control strategies before requiring respirators – but when respirators cannot be obtained due to supply issues (or other unavailability), employers cannot substitute cloth or surgical masks. For example, where asbestos is present and creates an imminent danger to the worker, the employer must attempt other control issues (engineering, administrative, and work practice controls) first. If the control measures do not eliminate the hazard and respirators are not available, the employer must delay the task, if feasible, to avoid exposing the worker to the hazardous condition.

For more information, please contact Amanda Thibodeau.

OSHA Updated Response Plan and Updated Reporting Requirements for COVID-19

May 28, 2020 Leave a comment

AET Headshot Photo 2019 (M1344539xB1386)The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued updated guidance including an Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), and updated reporting requirements for employers to report work-related cases of COVID-19. As employers begin re-opening and bring employees back to work (and for those essential businesses continuing to operate), employers should keep these updates from OSHA in mind in forming their COVID-19 response plans.

Learn about the OSHA updates in our COVID-19 Alert.

Categories: COVID-19 Alert Tags: , ,