OSHA has adopted revised policies for enforcing requirements and standards with respect to the coronavirus (COVID-19) as economies begin to reopen in states across the country. Understanding about the transmission and prevention of the virus has improved and as states begin to enter the early stages of reopening, OSHA revised two enforcement policies to ensure employers take proper action to protect employees.
Firstly, OSHA is increasing in-person inspections at all types of workplaces. The administration issued a new enforcement guidance that reflects changing circumstances in which many non-essential businesses have begun to reopen in areas of lower community spread.
According to the guidance, in geographic areas where community spread of COVID-19 has "significantly decreased," OSHA will return to the inspection planning policy it relied upon prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. However, OSHA will continue to prioritize COVID-19 cases in areas with reduced case numbers and OSHA area directors will ensure investigators utilize appropriate precautions and personal protective equipment when performing COVID-related inspections.
In geographic areas experiencing sustained elevated community transmission or a resurgence of community transmission, OSHA said area directors are instructed to exercise their discretion while continuing to prioritize COVID-19 fatalities and imminent danger exposures for inspection. Where resources are insufficient for on-site inspections in high-impact areas, OSHA said inspections will be initiated remotely and accompanying on-site inspections will be conducted when resources become available. OSHA said it will develop a program to conduct monitoring inspections from a randomized sampling of fatality or imminent danger cases where inspections were not conducted due to limited resources.
Secondly, OSHA said it is revising its previous enforcement policy for recording cases of COVID-19. Coronavirus is a recordable illness under OSHA recordkeeping requirements and employers are responsible for recording COVID-19 cases if the the case is work-related and involves one or more general recording criteria, including medical treatment beyond first aid or days away from work.
Under its new policy, OSHA said it will enforce recordkeeping requirements for employee coronavirus illnesses for all employers. However, in many instances, it remains difficult to determine whether a COVID-19 illness is work-related, especially when an employee has experienced potential exposure both in and out of the workplace. OSHA guidance says employers must make "reasonable efforts," based on the evidence available, to determine whether a particular case of the virus is work-related. OSHA emphasized recording a COVID-19 case does not mean an employer has violated any OSHA standard.