OSHA Issues COVID-19 Enforcement Guidance to Focus Inspections on High Risk Sites

Due to overwhelming number of complaints that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has received regarding concerns from workers in essential businesses, the agency, issued on April 13, 2020, an Interim Enforcement Response Plan to its compliance personnel regarding conducting inspections during the pandemic. The guidance addresses prioritization of investigations, such as when to conduct an on-site inspection versus less formal investigations, and issues to focus on in connection with an inspection related to exposure to COVID-19 cases.

OSHA’s interim enforcement response plan provides instructions and guidance to OSHA Area Offices and compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) for handling coronavirus-related complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports. The response plan follows OSHA’s guidance for business on the pandemic in that it uses the same hierarchy to classify workplaces and the threat of infection.

OSHA plans to focus its limited resources on the riskiest jobs where there is a high potential for exposure to the coronavirus, with fatalities and imminent danger exposures related to COVID-19 being prioritized for inspections. Workplaces considered to have workers at high risk of exposure include hospitals treating infected patients, nursing homes, emergency medical centers, home care or hospice care providers, funeral homes, biomedical laboratories, and medical transport. This means these businesses will have a much greater chance of being inspected than those in a lower risk category.

Businesses with lesser risk of workers being exposed to ill co-workers or customers, such as printing operations, will be assigned a lower priority for inspection. In these cases, there would likely not be an inspection. OSHA stated in the guidance, it will send a letter to the employer, which then has five business days to notify the agency about how it has addressed the complaint. The agency said it would then decide if an inspection is warranted based on the adequacy of the response.

OSHA does not have a specific rule for employers to follow to control hazards posed by the coronavirus. The agency has highlighted several standards inspectors can use to review compliance, including eye and face protection, sanitation protocols, general requirements for personal protective equipment, recordkeeping, respiratory protection for workers, and access to employee medical records. OSHA can issue a citation under these standards or the general duty clause, which states employers must provide workplaces that are free of known hazards that can be feasibly mitigated because they are viewing infection control practices and social distancing measures as a type of general duty obligation to protect employees from potential COVID-19 exposure.

To protect its personnel from exposure to the virus, OSHA stated that when an on-site inspection is conducted, inspectors should do as much of the inspection remotely as possible, using electronic means of communication or phone for the inspection’s opening conference with the employers. In-person interviews at inspection sites should be done in an uncontaminated administrative area and not interfere with work being performed.

OSHA guidance took effect on April 13, 2020 and remain in effect until further notice. It is intended to be time-limited to the current public health crisis.

For more information please contact the Government Affairs Department at govtaffairs@sgia.org.