OSHA Fines for COVID-19 Safety Violations Reach Nearly $2.5 Million

Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP By Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP November 13, 2020
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construction worker wearing mask on worksite

​Employers have a duty to keep workplaces free from known hazards—including coronavirus-related dangers—under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

OSHA announced on Nov. 6 that the agency has cited 179 worksites for coronavirus-related violations and proposed a total of $2,496,768 in penalties since the pandemic began, through Oct. 29.

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.

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)

CDC Says Teleworking Helps

Traveling to the worksite instead of teleworking may put employees at a greater risk of coronavirus infection, according to a new CDC report. Researchers analyzed a sample of 314 employed adults who took COVID-19 tests at outpatient facilities in July. Employees who worked remotely, either full time or part time, were about half as likely to test positive for the virus than those who said they exclusively went to an office or school in the two weeks before illness onset. "This investigation provides evidence of the potential health benefits of teleworking associated with the COVID-19 pandemic," according to the study's authors. "Allowing and encouraging the option to work from home or telework when possible is an important consideration for reducing SARS-CoV-2 transmission."

(Yahoo!)

Priorities Expected to Shift Under New Administration

Under President Donald Trump's administration, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia has taken a business-friendly approach to U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) priorities. President-elect Joe Biden will appoint a new DOL leadership team, and the department may focus on more-stringent workplace-safety standards for employers. The Biden campaign's goals include a robust plan for OSHA to carryout pandemic-related enforcement.

(Bloomberg Law)

Many States Require COVID-19 Workplace Safety Training

Employers should review applicable state laws in addition to federal guidelines, as many 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)

6 Contact-Tracing Steps for Employers

The CDC advises most employers to send employees home when they've had a risk of COVID-19 exposure under the agency's "close contact" definition. Here are the key contact-tracing steps attorneys say employers should take when following CDC guidelines.

(SHRM Online)

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