On April 13, 2020, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issued an interim enforcement response plan for COVID-19. This plan clarifies how OSHA is prioritizing workplaces with high and very high exposure to suspected sources of SARS-CoV-2 for inspection.
Directed to OSHA’s Area Offices and compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs), the plan provides instructions and guidance for handling COVID-19 related complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports. It also gives employers additional guidance on what to expect from OSHA in the face of this pandemic.
When processing COVID-19-related complaints and conduct investigations, CSHOs and Area Offices are directed to focus on jobs with high and very high exposure to suspected sources of SARS-CoV-2. The workplaces identified are generally in the health care industry.
Area Offices are instructed to process complaints from non-healthcare and non-emergency response establishments as “non-formal phone/fax.” Performing in-person inspections on these types of facilities should be avoided as much as possible. The memo also indicates that OSHA will be tracking all COVID-19 activity in the OSHA Information System with the specific code of N-16-COVID-19.
Requirements for High and Very High Exposure Workplaces
OSHA inspectors will review the following documents and processes during inspections of high and very high exposure workplaces:
- Pandemic plans recommended by CDC
- Hazard assessment protocols for PPE use with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients
- Medical records related to employee exposure incidents
- Whether the facility has handled contaminated specimens of COVID-19
- The facility’s respiratory protection program
- Employee training records
- Whether the employer has implemented a hierarchy of controls for worker protection
The following OSHA standards might apply to COVID-19 exposure cases:
- 29 CFR § 1904 | Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness
- 29 CFR § 1910.132 | General Requirements – Personal Protective Equipment
- 29 CFR § 1910.133 | Eye and Face Protection
- 29 CFR § 1910.134 | Respiratory Protection
- 29 CFR § 1910.141 | Sanitation
- 29 CFR § 1910.145 | Specification for Accident Prevention Signs and Tags
- 29 CFR § 1910.1020 | Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records
- Section 5(a)(1) | General Duty Clause of the OSH Act
OSHA emphasizes 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 also directs CSHOs and Area Offices to refer to OSHA’s most recent enforcement memos that give employers significant flexibility on the use of respirators.
OSHA Issues Interim Enforcement Response Plan for COVID-19, Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), OSHA Memorandum for Regional Administrators State Plan Designees, April 13, 2020.
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