The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) recent Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan for COVID-19 (Response Plan) was issued on the same day it announced its National Emphasis Program (NEP). Healthcare employers will continue to be a target of OSHA’s inspection efforts pursuant to the NEP. The Response Plan provides directions for OSHA compliance officers on how to conduct COVID-19 inspections.
The Response Plan details the categories of documents compliance officers should request. It also identifies specific standards that are most applicable to infectious diseases, which are:
- Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness;
- Personal Protective Equipment;
- Respiratory Protection;
- Accident Prevention Signs and Tags;
- Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records; and
- The General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
The Response Plan also suggests OSHA will expect stricter compliance than it did during the early stages of the pandemic. For example, the Response Plan acknowledges OSHA has been exercising some enforcement discretion for the recording of COVID-19 cases, but notes that “employers should have an increased ability to determine whether an employee’s COVID-19 illness is likely work-related” in light of increased understanding of how the infection is transmitted and prevented.
Many healthcare providers have struggled with shortages of supplies and personal protective equipment, such as respirators. OSHA previously used enforcement discretion in addressing those situations. However, shortages are unlikely to serve as a compelling excuse for non-compliance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently revised its guidance about sanitizing and reusing respirators due to an increase in supply. The Response Plan similarly states that shortages of health and safety equipment, such as N95 filtering facepiece respirators, are “becoming less of a barrier to compliance.” The Response Plan instructs compliance officers to evaluate the employer’s good faith efforts to comply with OSHA standards, including whether the employer “thoroughly explored alternative options to comply with the applicable standard(s),” like remote communications or training and efforts to obtain alterative respiratory protection devices. However, the Response Plan reiterates that enforcement discretion will not be exercised when respirators and other supplies and services are “readily available.”
A summary of the Response Plan can be found here.