The ‘first step’: OSHA updates COVID-19 guidelines as Biden administration focuses on worker safety

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Turner Construction

Washington — OSHA has issued updated COVID-19 guidance for workplaces – the “first step” by the Biden administration and new OSHA leadership to address the pandemic.

“The guidance issued today is the first step in the process, but it’s certainly not the last step in that process,” Jim Frederick, OSHA’s acting administrator and the agency’s principal deputy assistant secretary, said Jan. 29 during a Department of Labor virtual news conference.

The updated guidance, titled Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace stems from an Executive Order signed by President Joe Biden on Jan. 21. In addition to issuing the updated guidance, the order directs OSHA to consider an emergency temporary standard related to COVID-19. If an ETS is considered necessary, the agency is instructed to issue one by March 15.

A little more than one week into his new job, Frederick said he wasn’t ready to commit to a clearer time frame or outline what a potential ETS would include.

“We do not have an outline of what an ETS might look like, should we consider to go there,” Frederick said. “That is something we’re deliberating about and we’ll be working on.”

In the updated guidance, OSHA replaces suggestive language with stronger language, such as employers “should implement” prevention programs to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. Unlike a regulation, however, the guidelines provide no legal obligations for employers.

Steps employers should take to reduce transmission of COVID-19 among workers include adopting policies that encourage potentially infected workers to remain home without punishment for their absences. Workers also should have protection from retaliation for raising COVID-19-related concerns, and employers should communicate policies and procedures in every language spoken by their workforce.

Additionally, the guidance calls for hazard assessments and the identification of control measures that will limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The guidance includes information about physical distancing and face coverings, among other recommended measures, as well as the roles of employers and employees in COVID-19 responses. This includes considerations for workers who are at higher risk of severe illness, including older employees, “through supportive policies and practices.”

Other sections address the installation of barriers when physical distancing of 6 feet or more isn’t feasible, ventilation, personal protective equipment, good hygiene practices, and routine cleaning and disinfection.

“More than 400,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and millions of people are out of work as a result of this crisis,” M. Patricia Smith, senior counselor to the labor secretary, said in a press release. “Employers and workers can help our nation fight and overcome this deadly pandemic by committing themselves to making their workplaces as safe as possible. The recommendations in OSHA’s updated guidance will help us defeat the virus, strengthen our economy, and bring an end to the staggering human and economic toll that the coronavirus has taken on our nation.”

Another step in the process is “streamlining” the COVID-19-related citation process, OSHA Senior Advisor Ann Rosenthal said during the news conference.

She said the previous administration had “so many levels of review for COVID-related citations that, generally, they were issued on the final day of the six-month statute of limitations.” The goals of the streamlined process, she added, are timely abatement of hazards and informing workers.


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.

OSHA revises beryllium standard for general industry

Beryllium

Photo: JacobH/iStockphoto

Washington — OSHA has finalized revisions to its beryllium standard for general industry. Announced July 13, the final rule includes changes to five definitions and the addition of one new definition – beryllium sensitization.

Beryllium is a lightweight metal that can cause serious health problems, including lung cancer and chronic beryllium disease – also known as berylliosis.

The revised definitions address:

  • Beryllium work areas
  • Chronic beryllium disease
  • A chronic beryllium disease diagnostic center
  • Confirmed positive
  • Dermal contact with beryllium

Additional revisions include methods of compliance, personal protective clothing and equipment, hygiene areas and practices, housekeeping, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and recordkeeping. A new Appendix A is “designed to supplement the final standard’s definition of beryllium work area,” the notice states.

The compliance date for these changes is Sept. 14.

OSHA announced proposed alterations to its beryllium standards for the construction and shipyard industries on Sept. 30.

Trench Safety Stand Down set for June 15-19

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Fairfax, VA — The National Utility Contractors Association, with support from OSHA and the North American Excavation Shoring Association, is calling on employers involved in trench work to participate in the fifth annual Trench Safety Stand Down, scheduled for June 15-19.

The event is intended to raise awareness of the dangers of trenching and excavation, as well as promote the use of protective systems such as sloping, shoring and shielding. The OSHA standard for trenching and excavation (29 CFR 1926.650, Subpart P) requires protective systems for trenches that are 5 feet or deeper, unless the excavation occurs in stable rock.

As part of the event, NUCA, NAXSA and OSHA are offering free online tools, including posters, checklists, fact sheets and videos.

OSHA cautions that 1 cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds, and adds that trench collapses are “rarely survivable.” According to NUCA, citing data from OSHA, 17 workers died in trench incidents in 2018.

As a result of previously successful campaigns, NUCA has expanded upon the stand-down and declared June the inaugural Trench Safety Month, a May 20 organizational press release states.

“In this industry, the safety of our employees on the jobsite is our top priority,” NUCA CEO Doug Carlson said in the release. “Making this June ‘Trench Safety Month’ emphasizes the valuable training and experiences our members’ employees are gaining through the Trench Safety Stand Down week held annually in June throughout our industry.”

OSHA final rule corrects errors in 27 standards and regulations

Washington — OSHA has issued technical corrections and amendments to 27 standards and regulations to address “minor misprints, omissions, outdated references, and tabular and graphic inaccuracies.”

According to a final rule published in the Feb. 18 Federal Register, the corrections are to 29 CFR 1904 (recording and reporting occupational injuries and illnesses), 1910 (general industry), 1915 and 1918 (maritime), and 1926 (construction).

None of the revisions expands employer obligations or imposes new costs, a Feb. 14 press release from OSHA states.

The changes are effective immediately.

OSHA delays enforcement of crane operator documentation requirements for ‘good faith’ employers

Employers who make “good faith efforts” to document their evaluations of crane operators have an additional 60 days to comply with OSHA’s Cranes and Derricks in Construction: Operator Certification Extension, according to a Feb. 7 enforcement memorandum from the agency. Continue Reading»