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OSHA pandemic response plan draws lines on illness reporting, culpability

An interim enforcement response plan for the coronavirus pandemic provides guidance to Occupational Safety and Health Administration Area Offices plus compliance safety and health officers (CSHO) for handling Covid-19 disease-related complaints, referrals or severe illness reports. The plan contains what OSHA Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt calls “commonsense procedures for investigating complaints related to the coronavirus while also ensuring the safety of workers, employers, and inspectors.” 

Fatalities and imminent danger exposures related to the coronavirus will be prioritized for on-site inspections. In addition, the plan contains procedures and sample documentation for CSHO to use during coronavirus-related inspections. Workers requesting inspections, complaining of coronavirus exposure, or reporting illnesses may be protected under one or more whistleblower statutes and are to be informed of their protections from retaliation. 

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CalPortland Co. is among producers that quickly prepared pandemic response protocol and graphics to protect concrete, cement and aggregate plant team members.

Prior to the guidance, National Ready Mixed Concrete Association notes, OSHA held that any employee testing positive for Covid-19 would likely have to be recorded as a workplace illness. The agency has relaxed that requirement, however, since it can’t always be known if the disease was contracted at the workplace or elsewhere. Until further OSHA notice, Covid-19 cases are not recordable unless there is objective evidence that a case of the disease may be work related. Circumstances for such a finding would include a) a number of cases developing among crew members who work closely together without an alternative explanation; and, b) evidence of Covid-19 exposure in the workplace that was reasonably available to the employer.

During critical coronavirus exposure phases, OSHA affirms, Area Offices will utilize inspection resources to fulfill mission essential functions and protect workers exposed to the Covid-19 disease, while interim procedures allow flexibility and discretion to maximize the agency’s impact in securing safe workplaces in an evolving environment. “Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019” is posted at www.osha.gov.