On March 12, OSHA published a compliance directive in which it announced the policies and procedures necessary to implement a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to address the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. This follows President Biden signing an executive order on January 21st calling for increased regulatory attention on COVID-19 safety in the nation’s workplaces. The executive order also called for OSHA to issue revised guidelines and to “consider” developing an emergency temporary standard for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace by March 15. That date has come and gone, but the agency has not published a standard or even indicated if they will.
The guidance instructs employers to do the following:
- Complete a documented hazard assessment of COVID-19 in each place of work
- Develop and implement measures to limit the spread of the virus
- Develop and implement measures to separate infected or potentially infected workers from others
- Develop and implement physical distancing measures
- Install and maintain physical barriers when spacing cannot be maintained
- Develop and implement face-covering measures
- Develop and implement additional PPE necessary to protect employees
- Improve ventilation systems
- Provide supplies to maintain personal hygiene in the workplace
- Develop and implement protocols
Employers should document the completion of all the above program elements to prove these elements have actually been implemented.
The compliance directive calls for increases in inspections of workplaces in which the spread of COVID-19 is most likely to occur. The compliance directive instructs the agency to focus primarily on various segments of the healthcare industry, including physicians’ offices, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, home health care, ambulance services, and others. This is a high priority for the administration, and it is likely the inspections detailed in this compliance directive will start very soon.
Federal OSHA is compiling a master list of affected operations and sending them to every area office. These area offices can add more businesses to the list as deemed necessary by each Area Director. Once the list is generated, each area office will prepare a list of businesses to be inspected. At that point, compliance officers will visit each location and conduct in-depth inspections of COVID-19 exposure control plans, employee training, personal protective equipment use, and other elements of COVID-19 safety protocol.
It is important to note these inspections are not announced. Affected businesses must allow the inspection to proceed or risk the compliance officer obtaining a warrant to complete the inspection. Businesses can ask the compliance officer to wait about an hour to prepare for the inspection or contact a safety professional to aid in the process. Inspections will occur during normal business hours, regardless of patients waiting to be seen.
Because the healthcare industry, particularly physicians’ offices, have largely been off OSHA’s radar screen since the agency was formed in 1971, these businesses may not be prepared to handle the inspection in a manner that minimizes exposure to citations and penalties. This can be a costly mistake as the maximum penalty per violation is now $13,653. For example, an employee at a physician’s office not wearing a protective mask violates OSHA’s guidance. The practice is responsible for enforcing safe work practices and can be issued a citation despite the fact the practice issued and required that masks be worn at all times. Documentation demonstrating the medical practice enforces safety rules and protocols can be used to avoid such citations.
Understanding and exercising an employer’s rights during an inspection is one effective way of avoiding a painful and costly learning experience. Horton Safety Consultants has a team of professionals who understand the inspection process and how these employers can minimize exposure to costly citations. Responding onsite to assist a client with an OSHA inspection is one of the most important services we offer.
Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.