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.

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
    • 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.

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   

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. 

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.

Update 4/6/20:

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.

Update: 4/23/20

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.

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/ppe-strategy/decontamination-reuse-respirators.html

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/hcwcontrols/recommendedguidanceextuse.html

https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/emergency-situations-medical-devices/emergency-use-authorizations

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.

Source: OSHA. Guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19, Guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19 (2020).

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

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