Federal OSHA announced on April 13 that it won’t be enforcing COVID-19 recordkeeping requirements.
The announcement reverses an earlier decision requiring that transmission of the virus in the workplace, unlike the flu or common cold, would be considered a recordable injury for the sake of OSHA reporting.
The agency said it would only require the reporting of COVID-19 cases for non-frontline employers if there was objective evidence that a case may be work-related without an alternative explanation and the evidence was reasonably evident to the employer.
It said the new order would allow companies to “focus on implementing good hygiene practices rather than “making difficult work-relatedness decisions.”
Some employers are still required to record COVID-19 cases among their staff, including health care entities, emergency response outfits and correctional institutions.
OSHA complaints rise
The change comes as OSHA is flooded with COVID-19 complaints from workers reporting safety breaches in relation to the pandemic, across a range of industries and regions of the country.
Employment law attorneys say that shortly after the outbreak got a foothold in the U.S., OSHA started receiving complaints and began sending letters to employers telling them to respond by a certain time. But the agency has seen such a flood of complaints that the letters no longer require a response, and instead direct businesses to OSHA guidance and resources on how to address COVID-19 risk in the workplace.
The federal agency has received thousands of inquiries regarding COVID-19. And individual state OSHAs also report a spike in COVID-19 complaints by workers against their employers. Most are from health care workers, but others are from workers in other essential industries like grocery stores, warehouses, delivery operators, and more.
But while Fed OSHA may not be requiring employers to respond to complaints concerning coronavirus safety complaints, many state plans are in fact requiring employers to provide in-depth responses ― and some are actively investigating complaints.
What employers should do
If you have employees who are not working from home and are being exposed to the coronavirus to some degree while at work, you should have in place a plan to reduce the possibility of exposure. Your controls could include:
- Shields around workspaces or workers.
- Requiring the use of face masks and surgical gloves.
- Placing sanitizing gel in strategic locations in the workplace.
- Using personal protective equipment.
- Spacing personnel apart from each other to ensure appropriate distancing.
- Staggering work shifts.
- Frequently wiping down high-touch areas with an alcohol-type solution.
The key to protecting your workers and being able to provide a defense should OSHA conduct a workplace investigation is to show that you did all you could to mitigate hazards to your employees.
There are no guidelines for COVID-19 in OSHA’s regulations currently, but its General Duty Clause requires that you take appropriate precautions to protect your workers.