OSHA Fines More Businesses for COVID-19 Safety Violations

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doctor wearing surgical mask and face shield

Employers that don't comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards during the pandemic may face significant fines.

OSHA announced on Oct. 2 that the agency has cited 37 worksites for coronavirus-related violations and proposed a total of $484,069 in penalties since the pandemic began.

Although the agency hasn't implemented any coronavirus-specific workplace safety standards, employers still must comply with existing standards that cover pandemic-related safety risks. For example, all employers must provide a work environment that is "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm," according to the Occupational Safety and Health Act's general duty clause.

OSHA has cited employers for failing to take the following coronavirus-related actions:

We've rounded up resources and articles from SHRM Online and other trusted outlets on the news.

Health Care Facilities Cited for Lack of PPE

Many of the citations were issued to health care facilities in New Jersey and New York. OSHA proposed a $46,266 fine for a medical center in New Jersey that employed two nurses who died after contracting the coronavirus. Many medical facilities didn't have proper PPE, such as gowns, face masks, face shields and gloves, available at the start of the pandemic. Some medical professionals said they wore garbage bags when they ran out of gowns and reused face masks for up to a week even though they should be replaced between patients. 

(NorthJersey.com)

Meatpacking Plant Citations

One meatpacking plant was issued a general duty clause citation for failing to implement adequate safety measures to protect employees from the spread of the coronavirus. In a three-month period, 1,294 employees tested positive for COVID-19, 43 of those workers were hospitalized and four died from related complications. Another meatpacking plant was cited for not implementing a COVID-19 infection prevention program in March. The companies are challenging the citations.

(Bloomberg Law)

Employers Should Review OSHA and CDC Guidelines

Although OSHA hasn't issued any COVID-19 standards, the agency has released guidelines for limiting workers' exposure to the coronavirus. OSHA recommends that employers periodically check the agency's website, as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for updates.

(OSHA)

Many States Require COVID-19 Workplace Safety Training

Employers should review applicable state laws in addition to federal guidelines. Sixteen states now require employers to provide COVID-19 workplace safety training to employees. Even in states where training is not explicitly required, employers should consider providing all employees COVID-19 workplace safety training that is consistent with guidelines from OSHA and the CDC. Employers that provide up-to-date training can demonstrate their concern for employee safety and minimize the risk of government enforcement actions, workers' compensation liability and employee litigation.

(SHRM Online)

How Can Employers Tell If COVID-19 Is Work-Related?

Employers must investigate whether workers with COVID-19 contracted it at work, but determining that is difficult because the virus is so widespread. One option employers have is to document alternative explanations for the cause of the illness, if there are any, to prevent OSHA penalties.

Employers should expect a "tidal wave" of OSHA citations for record-keeping violations, said Eric Conn, an attorney with Conn Maciel Carey in Washington, D.C. But he said that employers usually will prevail if they conduct case-by-case workplace analyses for employees who have contracted COVID-19 and either conclude an illness is not work-related or record it in the OSHA 300 log if it is.

(SHRM Online)

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