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OSHA Releases Updated COVID-19 FAQs

Friday, October 9, 2020

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration updated its Frequently Asked Questions forum regarding the need to report employees’ in-patient hospitalizations and fatalities resulting from work-related cases of COVID-19.

Among the updates, the FAQs provide guidance on how to calculate reporting deadlines for in-patient hospitalizations and fatalities, as well as clarifying the meaning of the term “incident” as it relates to work-related coronavirus in-patient hospitalizations and fatalities.

Ed Brown, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration updated its Frequently Asked Questions forum regarding the need to report employees’ in-patient hospitalizations and fatalities resulting from work-related cases of COVID-19.

The two updated Q&As of note are:

  • Question: An employee has been hospitalized with a work-related, confirmed case of COVID-19. Do I need to report this in-patient hospitalization to OSHA?
  • Answer: Under 29 CFR 1904.39(b)(6), employers are only required to report in-patient hospitalizations to OSHA if the hospitalization "occurs within 24 hours of the work-related incident." For cases of COVID-19, the term "incident" means an exposure to SARS-CoV-2 in the workplace. Therefore, in order to be reportable, an in-patient hospitalization due to COVID-19 must occur within 24 hours of an exposure to SARS-CoV-2 at work. The employer must report such hospitalization within 24 hours of knowing both that the employee has been in-patient hospitalized and that the reason for the hospitalization was a work-related case of COVID-19. Thus, if an employer learns that an employee was in-patient hospitalized within 24 hours of a work-related incident, and determines afterward that the cause of the in-patient hospitalization was a work-related case of COVID-19, the case must be reported within 24 hours of that determination. OSHA adds to this that 29 CFR 1904.39(b)(6) only applies to reporting, and is separate from the injury and illness records requirements.
  • Question: An employee has died of a work-related, confirmed case of COVID-19. Do I need to report this fatality to OSHA?
  • Answer: Under 29 CFR 1904.39(b)(6), an employer must "report a fatality to OSHA if the fatality occurs within 30 days of the work-related incident." Therefore, in order to be reportable, a fatality due to COVID-19 must occur within 30 days of an exposure to SARS-CoV-2 at work.  The employer must report the fatality within eight hours of knowing both that the employee has died, and that the cause of death was a work-related case of COVID-19.

OSHA COVID-19 Guidance

OSHA has released several guidance documents for employers to deal with COVID-19 in the workplace.

In late May, OSHA issued an alert detailing steps for social distancing in the workplace.

The social distancing measures, which were released in English and Spanish for employers to use in the workplace, include:

  • Isolate any worker who begins to exhibit symptoms until they can either go home or leave to seek medical care;
  • Establish flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), if feasible;
  • Stagger breaks and re-arrange seating in common break areas to maintain physical distance between workers;
  • In workplaces where customers are present, mark six-foot distances with floor tape in areas where lines form, use drive-through windows or curbside pickup and limit the number of customers allowed at one time;
  • Move or reposition workstations to create more distance, and install plexiglass partitions; and
  • Encourage workers to bring any safety and health concerns to the employer’s attention.

The social distancing alert was just the latest in a stream of announcements from OSHA in dealing with the pandemic, including documents on respirator guidance, protecting workers in high-risk industries, enforcing safety and other direction for employers.

Prior to that, OSHA had released revised enforcement guidelines earlier this month as different parts of the country began to reopen.

“Throughout the course of the pandemic, understanding about the transmission and prevention of infection has improved,” OSHA said at the time. “The government and the private sector have taken rapid and evolving measures to slow the virus's spread, protect employees, and adapt to new ways of doing business.”

OSHA has issued two revised enforcement policies including increasing in-person inspections and revising its policy for recording cases of the coronavirus.

In terms of the inspections, the new enforcement guidance “reflects changing circumstances in which many non-critical businesses have begun to reopen in areas of lower community spread.”

  • In areas where the community spread of COVID-19 has decreased, OSHA will return to the inspection planning policy that it had relied on prior to the health crisis. However, it will continue to prioritize COVID-19 cases, utilize whatever type of communication is necessary and ensure everyone takes appropriate precautions.
  • In areas experiencing sustained community transmission or a resurgence, OSHA will continue prioritizing COVID-19 fatalities and imminent danger exposures for inspection, will conduct on-site inspections where resources are sufficient and OSHA will develop a program to conduct monitoring inspections.

The second revised guideline emphasizes that employers must make all reasonable efforts to ascertain where a case of coronavirus is work-related when dealing with recordkeeping.

Employers must record cases of the coronavirus if it:

  • Is confirmed as a coronavirus illness;
  • Is work-related as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5; and
  • Involves one or more of the general recording criteria in 29 CFR 1904.7, such as medical treatment beyond first aid or days away from work.

OSHA reiterates, though, that “recording a coronavirus illness does not mean that the employer has violated any OSHA standard. Following existing regulations, employers with 10 or fewer employees and certain employers in low hazard industries have no recording obligations; they need only report work-related coronavirus illnesses that result in a fatality or an employee's in-patient hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye.”

   

Tagged categories: COVID-19; Department of Labor; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Safety

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