The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration just issued an interim enforcement response plan to OSHA area offices on how to handle COVID-19-related complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports. And the plan means that healthcare and emergency response employers need to be more vigilant than ever when it comes to workplace safety.
How Will COVID-19-Related Complaints Be Handled?
The response plan indicates complaints from non-healthcare and non-emergency response establishments will be considered “non-formal phone/fax,” and follow the non-formal complaint and referral procedures. This will significantly reduce the likelihood of an inspection stemming from a complaint for non-healthcare and non-emergency response establishments. It also indicates that OSHA intends to focus a significant amount of their investigatory time on healthcare and emergency response establishments.
Do Not Forget To Report “Reportable Incidents”
The guidance reminds employers of their duty to report incidents resulting in a fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, and loss of an eye that was the result of a work-related incident. Employers must report a fatality within eight hours after they learn of the fatality, and must report an in-patient hospitalization, an amputation, or a loss of an eye within 24 hours of learning of the incident. Employers should note that injuries and illnesses, including COVID-19, that result in an in-patient hospitalization are only reportable if the hospitalization occurs within 24 hours of the work-related incident (i.e. contracting the virus).
The response plan directs Area Directors to determine whether to conduct an inspection or a Rapid Response Investigation and encourages Area Directors to opt for a Rapid Response Investigation whenever possible. Area Directors are also directed to evaluate the risk of exposure to COVID-19 at a workplace prior to any inspection. They are encouraged to maximize the use of electronic means of communication, including holding phone interviews, video conferences, and email transmittals of documents.
This interim enforcement response plan provides guidance on the priorities of OSHA in dealing with COVID-19 related complaints and inspections. Healthcare and emergency response establishments should pay particular attention to the response plan, as it indicates OSHA will prioritize employee complaints from those particular industries.