The number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is rising rapidly and so is the number of citations issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) related to the coronavirus. From the beginning of the pandemic through November 12, OSHA issued 232 citations with $3,148,452 in penalties. Of those citations, 90 have been issued since October 23. Many of the citations were the result of complaints, referrals and fatalities.
The administration recently issued new guidance to help employers understand which standards are most frequently cited during coronavirus-related inspections. According to a one-page document issued by OSHA, the following are examples of requirements that employers have most frequently failed to adhere to:
• Providing a medical evaluation before a worker is fit-tested or uses a respirator;
• Performing an appropriate fit test for workers using tight-fitting respirators;
• Assessing the workplace to determine if COVID-19 hazards are present, or likely to be present, which will require the use of a respirator and/or other personal protective equipment (PPE);
• Establishing, implementing and updating a written respiratory protection program with required worksite-specific procedures;
• Providing an appropriate respirator and/or other PPE to each employee when necessary to protect the health of the employees (ensuring the respirator and/or PPE used is the correct type and size);
• Training workers to safely use respirators and/or other PPE in the workplace, and retrain workers about changes in the workplace that might make previous training obsolete;
• Storing respirators and other PPE properly in a way to protect them from damage, contamination and, where applicable, deformation of the face piece and exhalation valve;
• Reporting any fatality that occurs within 30 days of a work-related incident to OSHA within eight hours of finding out about it; and
• Keeping required records of work-related fatalities, injuries and illness.
More detailed information about the violations as well as available resources and incident-related information are available here.
OSHA also recently updated its COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions page to address whether or not it considers cloth face coverings to be PPE. According to the site, cloth face coverings are not considered PPE and are not intended to be used as protection against exposure to occupational hazards. This is because OSHA doesn’t believe enough information is currently available to determine if a particular cloth face covering provides sufficient protection from the coronavirus hazard to be PPE under OSHA’s standard. As such, OSHA’s PPE standards do not require employers to provide them.
“However, employers may choose to ensure that cloth face coverings are worn as a feasible means of abatement in a control plan designed to address hazards from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Employers may choose to use cloth face coverings as a means of source control, such as because of transmission risk that cannot be controlled through engineering or administrative controls, including social distancing,” reads the guidelines.