In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has issued new enforcement guidance addressing work-related coronavirus cases.
OSHA Promising More Onsite Inspections
On May 19, 2020, OSHA released the Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019. The plan lays out new enforcement guidance in response to the fact that many non-critical businesses have begun to or will soon reopen in areas that have lower community spread of COVID-19.
OSHA said it will “continue to prioritize COVID-19 inspections, and will utilize all enforcement tools as OSHA has historically done.” And with personal protective equipment more widely available for its workers, OSHA will return to doing more onsite inspections in the areas of lower risk, which so far have largely been limited to fatality inspections during the coronavirus pandemic.
Focus on Healthcare Employers
Though they have not been a primary focus of OSHA enforcement, the agency said it will begin to target healthcare employers more heavily.
The new guidance instructs compliance officers during inspections to examine whether workers “who are expected to perform very high and high-risk exposure tasks are using respirators (i.e., N95 or better),” stating that “appropriate respiratory protection is required for all healthcare personnel providing direct care for patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.”
However, OSHA’s area directors will continue to evaluate potential inspection sites for coronavirus risks to its compliance officers and will not send them to places where they believe there is a hazard.
Recording and Reporting Requirements
OSHA has also revised its recordkeeping requirements for coronavirus cases. Because COVID-19 is a potentially recordable illness, employers are responsible for recording cases of the coronavirus if they:
- Are confirmed as COVID-19 infections;
- Are work-related; and
- Meet one or more of the agency’s general recording criteria, such as receiving medical treatment beyond first aid or resulting in days away from work.
Additionally, any work-related coronavirus cases that result in employee deaths must be reported to OSHA either online or by phone. However, OSHA has said that it will give latitude to employers for reasonable, good faith efforts to make work-related determinations, given the difficulty of identifying where such a widespread virus could have been contracted.
In determining whether employers have met this obligation, OSHA’s compliance officers will take into account the reasonableness of employers’ investigations into work-relatedness. Moreover, they will not expect employers to conduct extensive medical inquiries, given their probable lack of coronavirus expertise and employee privacy concerns.
Under these standards, it would likely be sufficient for employers to ask employees how they believe they contracted COVID-19, to discuss their work and out-of-work activities that could have led to the coronavirus infection with an eye toward privacy, and to review their workplaces for potential sources of exposure.
Serving Workers During the Pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has changed seemingly every aspect of contemporary life, not least of all in the workplace. While COVID-19 could be contracted anywhere, the risks of exposure are especially high for those who do not have the luxury of working remotely, but who instead have to perform the duties of their jobs in person, placing them and their families in jeopardy.
If you are on the frontlines of this terrible pandemic, GWC Injury Lawyers LLC is ready to serve you, to be available, reliable, and responsive to your needs. It is this staunch commitment to our clients that has made GWC one of the leading Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury law firms in Illinois, recovering more than $2 billion in verdicts and settlements.
If you have been sickened or injured on the job, contact GWC today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our Chicago workers’ compensation lawyers. Please call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with a representative at any time.