OSHA is planning to increase workplace inspections in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and has revised its enforcement policy for recordable cases of the virus.
Earlier this year, OSHA said it would require only employers in the health care industry, emergency response organizations and correctional institutions to make work-related determinations of COVID-19 cases. All other employers were exempt except in cases in which “objective evidence” existed that a COVID-19 infection was work-related or the evidence was “reasonably available” to the employer.
Now, many more employers need to make those work-related determinations. The exception? Employers with no more than 10 employees and certain employers in “low-hazard industries” do not have an obligation to report COVID-19 cases unless a work-related illness results in death, in-patient hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye.
OSHA can fine employers for violating workplace safety rules, but only after it conducts inspections and investigations.
Under the agency’s new guidance, COVID-19 cases are recordable if the illness is confirmed as COVID-19, the illness is work-related as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5 and the case involves at least one of the general recording criteria listed in 29 CFR 1904.7. The criteria include days away from work, medical treatment “beyond first aid,” loss of consciousness, and restricted work or transfer to another job.
“Given the nature of the disease and community spread, however, in many instances it remains difficult to determine whether a coronavirus illness is work-related, especially when an employee has experienced potential exposure both in and out of the workplace,” the agency said in a news release. “OSHA’s guidance emphasizes that employers must make reasonable efforts, based on the evidence available to the employer, to ascertain whether a particular case of coronavirus is work-related.”
According to OSHA, the effort to increase the number of inspections is a result of “changing circumstances in which many noncritical businesses have begun to reopen in areas of lower community spread.”
OSHA staff, it said, will continue to prioritize COVID-19 inspections, and will utilize all enforcement tools as OSHA has “historically done.”