U.S. Department of Labor Issues COVID-Related Citations

McCraren Compliance assists employers in protecting their workers, starting with a comprehensive Work-site Analysis, Hazard Prevention, Controls, and Safety & Health Training.

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COVID-19 pandemic: ‘More action is needed’ from MSHA, DOL inspector says


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Washington — Although the Mine Safety and Health Administration has taken steps to protect workers in the mining industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, “more action is needed” from the agency as evolving challenges mount, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General concludes in an audit report.

Released July 24, the report resulted from a DOL OIG analysis of MSHA guidance, various states’ executive orders and other related documents, as well as an assessment of interviews with MSHA officials and union representatives.

DOL OIG issued two recommendations to MSHA:

  • Monitor the potential backlog of suspended and reduced enforcement activities and develop a plan to manage the backlog once full operations resume.
  • Monitor COVID-19 outbreaks at mines and use that information to reevaluate the agency’s decision not to issue an emergency temporary standard related to COVID-19.

MSHA administrator David Zatezalo states in a written response to the audit report that he agrees with the recommendations and notes that “MSHA currently does not have a backlog of statutorily mandated enforcement activities and the agency anticipates meeting such requirements for [fiscal year] 2020.”

webpage detailing the agency’s response to the pandemic states that “MSHA will continue to perform its essential functions, including mandatory inspections, serious accident investigations and investigations of hazard complaints (imminent danger or serious in nature).” However, DOL OIG reports that the agency, as of May, has suspended five categories of enforcement actions – including its incident reduction program – while seriously reducing activity in 13 other categories.

Additionally, about 100 of 750 agency inspectors self-identified as high risk for severe complications from COVID-19, DOL OIG reports, prompting them to work remotely or take leave. Although this measure accounts for these inspectors’ safety and health, it may contribute to putting miners at increased risk because the remaining inspectors “must work overtime to cover those gaps” while identifying potential hazards.

MSHA has released voluntary guidelines intended to protect miners during the pandemic, but the agency “is facing considerable pressure from mining unions, Congress, and others to exercise its authority and issue an emergency temporary standard,” the report states.

In May, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced bipartisan legislation that would require MSHA to issue within seven days of enactment an emergency temporary standard to help protect mine workers from exposure to COVID-19, followed by a final rule. At press time, the COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act (S. 3710) remained in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

One month after the bill was introduced, the United Mine Workers of America and the United Steelworkers filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit a joint emergency petition against the Department of Labor and MSHA as a measure to compel the agency to issue an emergency temporary standard on infectious diseases.

“The noted legislation has not yet been enacted and the petition before the U.S. Court of Appeals is pending,” the report states. “MSHA leadership told us it does not intend to issue an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 until it determines the need arises.”

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As pandemic continues, don’t lose sight of common worker safety hazards, experts caution


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Silver Spring, MD — As the United States approaches six months of adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic, employers and employees mustn’t overlook longtime safety hazards such as falls and electricity.

That was the message from Rodd Weber, a Las Vegas-based corporate safety director at The PENTA Building Group, during an Aug. 13 roundtable webinar hosted by CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training.

“I’m not saying to back off of that [attention to COVID-19],” Weber said, “but I would just caution everyone to don’t become so focused on COVID that you lose sight of the fact that we have plenty of other hazards that could literally kill somebody at any given time on a jobsite … much quicker than COVID ever will. And probably, we need to be paying attention a lot more to some of those things. And there certainly has been a distraction this year on some of those issues.

“So, I would just encourage everyone not to take it easy on the COVID stuff, but don’t lose focus of our … hazards that are out there with regard to safety.”

In a July 16 CPWR webinar on contact tracing basics and applications in construction, Travis Parsons, associate director of occupational safety and health for the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America, also spoke about how the complexities of the pandemic have helped create distraction.

“Us in the construction industry all know that there’s a lot of uncertainty going on right now,” Parsons said. “We have a lot of workers that never stopped working – essential workforce. We have a lot of workers now that are returning to work. We have differences depending on your geography, what state you’re in and what the protocols are, so there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

McCraren Compliance sees the solution in our people. We are developing each person into a safety leader by recognizing and valuing them as humans and teaching them to do the same with their co-workers. We are creating workplaces where we all watch out for each other.

Please contact us today at 888-758-4757 to learn how we can provide mine safety training and consulting for your business.

Understanding Compliance with OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic

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The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the availability of respirators and fit-testing supplies. This document is intended to help employers understand and comply with OSHA’s temporary enforcement guidance for the Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR § 1910.134).

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a public health emergency that has dramatically increased demand for respirators, particularly N-95 filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs), as well as fit-testing supplies ordinarily used to ensure that respirators fit workers properly and provide the expected level of protection. Shortages (either intermittent or extended) of both FFRs and fit-testing supplies have posed tremendous challenges. In order to allow essential operations to continue, many employers have had to utilize contingency and crisis strategies that are ordinarily not compliant with OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard. Examples of contingency and crisis strategies include: extended use of disposable FFRs, decontamination and reuse of disposable FFRs, and the use of foreign FFRs not approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). It is important for employers to understand that deviations from normal respirator use come with increased risk for workers that, in certain circumstances, may only be allowable during this public health emergency because the alternative of no respiratory protection presents a greater danger to workers. In order to ensure adequate protection for workers during the use of contingency and crisis strategies, OSHA has issued temporary enforcement guidance to its Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs). This guidance allows CSHOs to exercise enforcement discretion in cases involving workplace exposures and an employer that is unable to comply with certain provisions of the Respiratory Protection standard because of supply shortages and has thus found it necessary to implement contingency or crisis strategies for respirator use by workers. Read More»

McCraren Compliance assists employers in protecting their workers, starting with a comprehensive Work-site Analysis, Hazard Prevention, Controls, and Safety & Health Training.

Please contact us today at 888-758-4757 to learn how we can provide mine safety training and consulting for your business.

Cleaning vs. disinfecting/sanitizing: What’s the difference?


A best practice to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory infections is routinely cleaning and disinfecting/sanitizing surfaces, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

That’s because recent studies have found that SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – can remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials. To effectively remove and eliminate the virus, however, workers need to understand that the terms “cleaning” and “disinfecting/sanitizing” aren’t interchangeable, NIOSH Director John Howard pointed out during a March 31 webinar hosted by the National Safety Council in conjunction with the agency.

“Cleaning is getting the dirt out,” Howard said. “Sanitizing is what’s used in public health a lot to get down to a certain level of bacteria – sometimes 95% is killed. Disinfection is killing everything. That’s where you want to aim.”

CDC’s explanation goes a step further:
Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces. It doesn’t kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
Disinfecting/sanitizing refers to using chemicals (e.g., Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectants) to kill germs on surfaces. This process doesn’t necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
Sterilization describes a process of destroying or eliminating all forms of microbial life and is carried out in health care facilities by physical or chemical methods.

Among CDC’s tips to clean and disinfect surfaces:

  • Wear disposable gloves.
  • Clean surfaces using soap and water, then use a disinfectant.
  • When using EPA-registered disinfectants, follow the instructions on the label to ensure safe and effective use of the product.
  • More frequent cleaning and disinfection may be required based on level of use.
  • Surfaces and objects in public places (e.g., shopping carts and point-of-sale keypads) should be cleaned and disinfected before each use.

Speeding up OSHA’s response to COVID-19 whistleblower complaints: DOL OIG makes recommendations

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Washington — Facing a staffing shortage and an increased number of complaints related to the COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA must improve the efficiency of its Whistleblower Protection Program, an audit report from the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General concludes.

The program enforces 23 statutes that prohibit employers from retaliating against workers who report employer violations of various workplace safety, consumer product, environmental, financial reform and securities laws.

“When OSHA fails to respond in a timely manner, it could leave workers to suffer emotionally and financially, and may also lead to the erosion of key evidence and witnesses,” DOL OIG states in the Aug. 14 report.

An audit conducted by OIG found whistleblower complaints increased 30% during the first four months of the pandemic compared with the same period last year. Meanwhile, the WPP’s number of full-time equivalent investigators dropped to 120 from 126 in 2019. As a result, some investigators have as many as 45 open cases – more than double the “optimal” maximum amount of 20, according to the report. OIG recommends OSHA fill these vacancies.

The office also recommends the agency continue to assess a triage pilot intended to speed up the complaint screening process and consider extending the program to all regions. The program, set up before the pandemic in Region 2 (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands), is designed to reassign older whistleblower complaints from regions with sizeable backlogs to regions with smaller backlogs.

“Whistleblower program officials have not utilized a similar approach during the pandemic to more evenly distribute whistleblower complaints,” the report states. OIG recommends the agency develop a caseload management plan to be able do so.

In general, whistleblower cases are assigned based on the whistleblower’s location or where the majority of witnesses appeared to be located. However, OIG points out, many investigations are conducted via telephone interviews and with electronic delivery of supporting documentation, making distributing caseloads easier.

Acting OSHA administrator Loren Sweatt agreed with the recommendations in a response memo dated Aug. 10 and addressed to Assistant Inspector General for Audit Elliot Lewis. She wrote that the agency has processed more than half of the COVID-19-related complaints received to date, with an average screening time of 10 days – faster than the agency’s fiscal year 2020 Operating Plan’s performance measure of 13 days.

Sweatt added that the “Whistleblower Investigations Manual” is close to its first published update since September 2011.

“In the meantime, the agency continues to issue new guidance to investigative staff, strengthen our collaborative relationships with our partner agencies, and develop new customer service and outreach tools,” she wrote.

McCraren Compliance assists employers in protecting their workers, starting with a comprehensive Work-site Analysis, Hazard Prevention, Controls, and Safety & Health Training.

How healthy is your home workstation? Researchers identify key ergo issues


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Cincinnati — Millions of people working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic may be sitting at improperly arranged workstations that increase their risk of eye, head, neck, back, shoulder, wrist and forearm stress and strain injuries, according to the results of a recent survey conducted by University of Cincinnati researchers.

The researchers conducted an ergonomic assessment of 843 university faculty and staff members’ home workstations via an email survey. In addition, 41 employees submitted photos of their workstations for review. Identified as the top ergonomic issues concerning chairs were lack of lumbar support (73%), back support not being used (69%), seat was too hard (63%), and seat was too low or too high (43%).

Sitting in a chair that is the wrong height can result in elevated arms, leaning on the front edge of a desk and poor head position, the researchers noted. They added that back supports and softer seats help assist with proper posture, while not using armrests adds stress to the forearms and upper back.

Other ergonomics issues identified included poor lighting; work surfaces that had hard, sharp edges; and monitors positioned too high, too low or off to the side.

Among the biggest takeaways for Kermit Davis, lead study author and associate professor in the UC College of Medicine, is that those working at home should take a break about every 30 minutes to minimize the risk of injury.

“The body doesn’t like static postures continually,” Davis said in a July 28 press release. “You don’t want to do all sitting or all standing all the time. You want to alter your position and change it up throughout the day.”

Other recommendations:

  • Place a pillow on your seat if you need more height.
  • Use a rolled-up pillow or towel behind your back to provide lumbar/back support.
  • Move your chair closer to the desk or table to ensure your back is against the back of the chair.
  • Use books or a box to raise a laptop monitor to eye level.
  • Standing workstations should include a monitor at eye level, keyboard placed so your forearms are parallel to the ground, and a soft or rounded front edge to the working surface.

The study was published online July 3 in the journal Ergonomics in Design.

COVID-19 pandemic: OSHA releases guidelines for oil and gas industry


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Washington — OSHA has published COVID-19-related guidance intended to help employers in the oil and gas industry reduce exposure among workers, including personnel in the sub industries and those whose tasks “make up the broader oil and gas industrial sector.”

The guidance includes a table with examples of tasks and associated risk levels, along with examples of engineering and administrative controls. Additionally, the agency addresses cloth facial coverings, safe work practices, personal protective equipment, and OSHA “flexibilities” on PPE requirements and prioritization during the pandemic.

Among the agency’s recommendations:

  • Defer work requiring close contact with others, if possible.
  • Configure communal work environments so workers are spaced at least 6 feet apart.
  • Stagger workers’ arrival, break and departure times.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation in work areas to help minimize potential exposure.
  • Encourage workers to wear face coverings to prevent the potential spread of the virus.

“Employers with workers engaged in the oil and gas industry should remain alert to changing conditions and implement infection prevention measures accordingly,” OSHA states.

OSHA COVID-19 Guidance Advises Wearing Masks in Workplace

As cases of COVID-19 continue to spike across the country and many jurisdictions have begun to require the use of face coverings in public, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has unveiled and updated its Frequently Asked Questions discussing masks in the workplace.

According to OSHA wearing a surgical mask/face covering is safe for most people.

Medical masks, including surgical masks, are routinely worn by healthcare workers throughout the day as part of their personal protective equipment (PPE) ensembles and do not compromise their oxygen levels or cause carbon dioxide buildup. They are designed to be breathed through and can protect against respiratory droplets, which are typically much larger than tiny carbon dioxide particles. Consequently, most carbon dioxide particles will either go through the mask or escape along the mask’s loose-fitting perimeter. Some carbon dioxide might collect between the mask and the wearer’s face, but not at unsafe levels.

Like medical masks, cloth face coverings are loose-fitting with no seal and are designed to be breathed through. In addition, workers may easily remove their medical masks or cloth face coverings periodically (and when not in close proximity with others) to eliminate any negligible build-up of carbon dioxide that might occur. Cloth face coverings and medical masks can help prevent the spread of potentially infectious respiratory droplets from the wearer to their co-workers, including when the wearer has COVID-19 and does not know it.

However OSHA reminds us that surgical masks and cloth face coverings are not effective respiratory protection in the construction industry.

Employers must not use surgical masks or cloth face coverings when respirators are needed.

In general, employers should always rely on a hierarchy of controls that first includes efforts to eliminate or substitute out workplace hazards and then uses engineering controls (e.g., ventilation, wet methods), administrative controls (e.g., written procedures, modification of task duration), and safe work practices to prevent worker exposures to respiratory hazards, before relying on personal protective equipment, such as respirators. When respirators are needed, OSHA’s guidance describes enforcement discretion around use of respirators, including in situations in which it may be necessary to extend the use of or reuse certain respiratorsuse respirators beyond their manufacturer’s recommended shelf life, and/or use respirators certified under the standards of other countries or jurisdictions.

McCraren Compliance can help. We offer Respiratory Protection Training and Fit Testing required by OSHA.

U.S. Department of Labor cites Ohio nursing homes for failing to fully protect residents from COVID-19

The DOL says that several Ohio care facilities, failed to provide the proper respirator programs.

The DOL says that several Ohio care facilities, failed to provide the proper respirator programs.

OSHA has cited healthcare company OHNH EMP LLC for violating respiratory protection standards following an inspection initiated after the company reported the coronavirus-related hospitalization of seven employees.

OSHA inspected three OHNH EMP facilities in Ohio: Pebble Creek Healthcare Center in Akron, and Salem West Healthcare Center and Salem North Healthcare Center in Salem. OSHA cited each location for a serious violation of two respiratory protection standards: failing to develop a comprehensive written respiratory protection program and failing to provide medical evaluations to determine employees’ ability to use a respirator in the workplace. OSHA also issued a Hazard Alert Letter regarding the company’s practice of allowing N95 respirator use for up to seven days and not conducting initial fit testing. The agency has proposed $40,482 in penalties.

“It is critically important that employers take action to protect their employees during the pandemic, including by implementing effective respiratory protection programs,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “OSHA has and will continue to vigorously enforce the respiratory protection standard and all standards that apply to the coronavirus. As Secretary Scalia has said, ‘the cop is on the beat.'” Read More»