Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic early in 2020, employers have had to adjust to a whole new set of conditions upon reopening their workplaces. There has been a renewed focus on employee safety especially as Covid-19 cases have begun to climb in many states throughout the U.S. After the Occupational Safety and Health Administration experienced a surge of complaints about how employers were dealing with the threat of Covid-19, it issued a set of interim guidelines in the middle of April to address the problem.
Essentially, this guidance directs OSHA area directors and inspectors on how to handle Covid-19-related complaints. Most of the complaints received by OSHA result from shortages of personal protective equipment and inadequate training along with a few worksite outbreaks.
OSHA Guidance Focuses on High Risk Industries
The OSHA guidance prioritizes the most affected industries, such as healthcare and first responders and includes the inspection of areas at high risk of exposure and deaths. For in-person inspections, an OSHA area director is to assess the level of risk to a Compliance Health and Safety Officer at the worksite in question. OSHA is also classifying Covid-19 inspections as novel cases. In other words, they will receive added scrutiny from the Directorate of Enforcement Programs. The new guidance also lets employers know what to expect from OSHA as far as compliance and in-person inspections.
Risk Level Categories for Employers
OSHA has identified three different risk levels for workplace settings:
- High and very high exposure risk jobs – ones with strong potential for exposure to Covid-19 e.g. hospitals, medical facilities, nursing homes, and biomedical laboratories.
- Medium exposure risk jobs – those with frequent contact with people who may have Covid-19 e.g. schools, high-volume retail establishments and other high-population-density work environments.
- Low exposure risk jobs – those not having recurring close contact with the general public and other coworkers.
Most worksites will fall into the medium- or lower-risk categories which do not require any direct contact with people suspected or known to have coronavirus. Nevertheless, employers still need to take precautions to ensure worker safety and to reduce company liability for OSHA fines. Therefore, contractors who are already licensed in lead abatement or hazardous waste removal should take advantage of our training seminars for the latest Covid-19 cleaning protocols and OSHA compliance standards.
Regardless of the level of worksite risk, any possible coronavirus exposures and deaths will be prioritized by OSHA for inspections. Consequently, employers may be subject to an electronic or remote audit of their employer programs, especially regarding supplies of PPE and any emergency preparedness and response plan. Although on-site inspections will be limited, they will still occur if a CSHO detects an especially risky situation and subsequently receives approval for the inspection. For this reason, employers should make every effort to stay up-to-date with any assessments and trainings in compliance with applicable OSHA standards for Covid-19.
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Access Training Services offers regulatory compliance courses in OSHA safety, outreach, and hazardous waste for residential and commercial contractors, construction workers and other industry professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the surrounding areas.