COVID-19 pandemic: OSHA answers FAQs on protecting workers

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Washington — OSHA has published on its website answers to more than 40 frequently asked questions on protecting workers from exposure to COVID-19.

Based on inquiries received from the public, the FAQs cover a wide range of topics, including testing, cleaning and disinfection, employer requirements, personal protective equipment, returning to work, training, and worker protection concerns.

“OSHA is committed to giving employers and workers the information they need to work safely in this rapidly changing situation,” acting OSHA administrator Loren Sweatt said in a July 2 press release.

The FAQ guidance is part of a series of OSHA publications on COVID-19. The agency previously issued guidelines on preparing workplaces for COVID-19 and returning to work.

Assessing COVID-19 hazards, controls in manufacturing facilities: CDC publishes toolkit

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Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Atlanta — A new toolkit from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is designed to help workplace safety and health professionals and public health officials assess manufacturing facilities’ COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures.

The toolkit includes a checklist to “determine whether control measures in place align with CDC/OSHA guidance.” CDC recommends conducting a checklist assessment when a COVID-19 control plan is developed and each time it’s revised. The assessment should include these steps:
Pre-assessment: Inform all parties of the assessment’s goals. Work as a group to review the checklist to determine if each part applies to your company.
Walkthrough: While conducting the walkthrough of a facility, use the checklist to document what you find. Observe as much of the plant processes as possible. Limit participation to those familiar with plant processes.
Post-assessment: After conducting the assessment, discuss observations, develop action items, determine steps to protect workers, and prioritize actions to take to control and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Other resources are quick reference slides for safety pros and health officials, as well as quick reference guides in the form of one-page flyers for employers and employees. The toolkit also can be used to assess manufacturing facilities’ overall hazard assessment and control plans.

CDC says the guidance will be updated “as needed and as additional information becomes available.”

COVID-19 pandemic: UK manufacturing association issues guidance for scaffold tower users

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London — In an effort to protect workers who use scaffold towers from exposure to COVID-19, the UK-based Prefabricated Access Suppliers’ and Manufacturers’ Association has published guidelines for employers and safety and health professionals.

The guidance notes that two workers normally would work in close proximity to erect a tower. However, workers should make “a conscious effort … to complete the task while remaining [6 feet] apart.” For instance, one worker can assemble the base section of a scaffold tower and install stabilizers before climbing onto the first platform. Then, another worker can assist with building the rest of structure from the ground.

“However, a more reliable method may be using one-person towers, which are specially designed to be built and dismantled by one individual working alone,” PASMA states.

Other recommendations:

  • Follow government health guidance.
  • Provide workers with handwashing facilities and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Plan more frequent deep cleaning of facilities and scaffold components.
  • Encourage workers to practice safe physical distancing.
  • Communicate all safety measures to employees.
  • Review and assess your risk assessment plan, as well as how it might be impacted by COVID-19.
  • Review your rescue plan to determine how a worker who becomes ill or injured would be rescued.
  • Plan online scaffold training sessions for portions that can be taught remotely.
  • Make sure training facilities keep workers safe when conducting in-person courses.

COVID-19 pandemic: Bipartisan bill would direct MSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard

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Washington — Bipartisan legislation recently introduced in the Senate would require the Mine Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard within seven days of enactment, followed by the issuance of a final rule.

The COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act (S. 3710) – introduced May 13 by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) – would forbid mine operators from retaliating against mine workers who report infection control problems to employers or any public authority.

According to May 14 press release from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), one of the bill’s seven co-sponsors, the legislation also would require:

  • Mine operators to provide workers with personal protective equipment.
  • MSHA to issue a permanent comprehensive infectious disease standard within two years.
  • MSHA to track, analyze and investigate mine-related COVID-19 infection data – in coordination with OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – to make recommendations and guidance to protect workers.

“Miners have put their health at risk for years to power our country,” Brown said in the release. “Now they’re facing more danger, as working conditions put them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.”

MSHA says it has received a “high volume” of questions about COVID-19. In response, the agency published an information sheet with recommendations for miners and mine operators to help prevent the spread of the disease, along with a list of actions MSHA has taken during the ongoing pandemic.

Miners and mine operators are encouraged to stay home when sick, avoid close contact with others, wash hands frequently, and regularly clean and disinfect equipment and commonly touched surfaces.

The bill – co-sponsored by five other Senate Democrats and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) – was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on May 13.

COVID-19 pandemic: DOT to provide more than 15 million cloth facial coverings to essential workers

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Washington — The Department of Transportation has announced it will distribute about 15.5 million cloth facial coverings to transportation workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Previous guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified transportation workers as essential and among those in “critical infrastructure” occupations.

“Transportation workers are on the front lines of keeping our transportation systems operational during this public health emergency and their well-being and safety is paramount,” Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said in a May 28 press release.

Distribution of facial coverings by industry is as follows:

  • Mass transit and passenger rail: 4.8 million
  • Aviation: 3.8 million
  • Maritime: 2.4 million
  • Freight rail: 2.2 million
  • Highway and motor carrier: 2.1 million
  • Pipeline systems: 258,000

FEMA secured the facial coverings, which are expected to be distributed via the U.S. Postal Service “over the coming weeks.”

OSHA hosts webinar on preventing heat-related illnesses, injuries

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Photo: OSHA

Washington — To prevent illnesses and injuries related to environmental heat exposure, employers need to “think about preventing injuries and providing workers with the right equipment for the job,” a May 19 webinar hosted by OSHA advises.

“Millions of U.S. workers are exposed to heat in the workplace, and although heat-related illness is preventable, each year thousands of workers are getting sick from their exposure to heat, and … some cases are fatal,” Stephen Boyd, deputy regional administrator for OSHA Region 6, said during the presentation.

The agency notes that operations involving high air temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects and strenuous physical activity carry high potential for causing work-related heat stress. OSHA cites numerous industrial occupations and locations in which problems may occur. Among outdoor workers, examples include construction, refining, asbestos removal, hazardous waste site activities and emergency response operations – especially those requiring workers to wear semipermeable or permeable protective clothing.

Sites of potentially hazardous indoor operations include foundries, brick firing and ceramic plants, glass product facilities, rubber product factories, electrical utilities (particularly boiler rooms), bakeries, confectionaries, commercial kitchens, laundries, food canneries, chemical plants, mining sites, smelters, and steam tunnels.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, heat illnesses caused 49 worker deaths in 2018 – a 53.1% increase from the previous year. That same year, 3,950 workers experienced days away from work as a result of nonfatal injuries and illnesses from occupational heat exposure.

The webinar explores strategies for heat hazard recognition, as well as planning and supervision, engineering controls and work practices, training, and resources.

All new or returning workers should be acclimatized to environmental heat conditions by first working shorter shifts before building up to longer ones, OSHA recommends. Additionally, these workers should gradually increase their workloads while taking more frequent breaks at the start.

OSHA offers employer and worker resources for working in hot weather through its “Water. Rest. Shade.” Campaign.

“Water, rest, shade: These will mean the difference between life and death,” OSHA states during the webinar.

Agency tips to help prevent heat-related illnesses:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes.
  • Take rest breaks in the shade to cool down.
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
  • Monitor co-workers for symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

An effort to mitigate heat-related illnesses and fatalities include a Heat Safety Tool – a free mobile app designed in collaboration with NIOSH.

U.S. Department of Labor Issues Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About Face Coverings, Surgical Masks and Respirators in the Workplace

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published a series of frequently asked questions and answers regarding the use of masks in the workplace.

“As our economy reopens for business, millions of Americans will be wearing masks in their workplace for the first time,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “OSHA is ready to help workers and employers understand how to properly use masks so they can stay safe and healthy in the workplace.”

The new guidance outlines the differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks and respirators. It further reminds employers not to use surgical masks or cloth face coverings when respirators are needed. In addition, the guidance notes the need for social distancing measures, even when workers are wearing cloth face coverings, and recommends following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on washing face coverings.

These frequently asked questions and answers mark the latest guidance from OSHA addressing protective measures for workplaces during the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, OSHA published numerous guidance documents for workers and employers, available at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/, including five guidance documents aimed at expanding the availability of respirators.

For further information and resources about the coronavirus disease, please visit OSHA’s coronavirus webpage.

COVID-19 pandemic: Association asks public to help keep sanitation workers safe

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Silver Spring, MD — The Solid Waste Association of North America is asking the public to take simple steps to help protect sanitation workers from exposure to COVID-19. That includes holding off on spring cleaning projects that generate large amounts of trash.

According to a press release from SWANA, residential waste collection has increased up to 38% in some communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, putting workers at risk. “You’re picking up waste from homes where people may have COVID-19, and so there’s concern about exposure to the virus through the trash,” SWANA Executive Director and CEO David Biderman told Safety+Health.

Citing research that shows the coronavirus may last on cardboard for 24 hours and live on plastic for up to three days, SWANA offers several recommendations for safely disposing of waste and recycling materials. They include:

  • Wash your hands before taking out trash and recycling containers.
  • Sanitize container lids and handles.
  • Don’t place plastic gloves, masks and other medical waste in recycling bins. Put them in your trash can.

Other ways you can help, Biderman said, are breaking down large cardboard boxes to make sure they fit inside your recycling bin; and taking the time to empty, rinse and dry other recyclable items such as plastics and glass.

“There’s a lot more recyclables being generated, and so people need to really know how to manage that material in their home and put the right stuff in the blue bin,” he added.

SWANA recommends you check with your service provider about potential changes such as temporary closing of drop-off centers or suspension of yard waste collection.

Advocacy group releases guidelines for safe return to work

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Photo: National COSH

Los Angeles — To help ensure the safety of people returning to work – as well as those already on the job – during the COVID-pandemic, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health has released guidelines for workplace safety; worker participation; and fair compensation for sick, injured and at-risk workers.

In a report released May 14, National COSH states that essential businesses should have critical safety measures in place that are enforced and monitored. Contributing to the report – A Safe and Just Return to Work – were physicians, certified industrial hygienists, attorneys, academics, and leaders of nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations.

“The United States is far from being ready to open for business without putting not only workers but entire communities at grave risk of illness and death,” the report states. “Only the most essential businesses should be open, and even those must only be allowed to operate if critical safety measures are in place.”

The guidelines emphasize that protections must follow NIOSH’s Hierarchy of Controls, which places personal protective equipment as the final line of defense.

According to National COSH, a safe return-to-work strategy requires, at a minimum:

  • Effective and stringent health and safety protections informed by science; backed by robust enforcement; and designed with input from workers, employers and unions, among others.
  • A planned, detailed and meaningful system for testing, screening, contact tracing, isolation and epidemiological surveillance.
  • Guaranteed job protection and just compensation for workers, as well as individuals who can’t work.
  • Respect and inclusion of meaningful worker and union involvement in decision-making, return-to-work plans and workplace safety.
  • Measures to ensure equity, inclusion and a path to end health and economic disparities.

“Employers who adopt a ‘business-as-usual’ approach could cause workers and their family members to become sick or even die,” Sherry Baron, a professor of public health at Queens College in New York City and a contributor to the report, said in the release. “The right way to reduce risk and limit harm is to include workers in making the plan and implementing effective safety programs, based on the best available scientific evidence.

COVID-19 pandemic: CDC issues guidance for reopening businesses

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Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Atlanta — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidelines intended to help businesses, as well as schools and mass transit operations, safely reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 60-page guidance document outlines a three-phase approach that includes six “gating criteria” to move forward, such as decreases in newly identified COVID-19 cases, decreases in percentage of positive tests and a robust testing program.

CDC advises employers to consider a variety of measures for keeping people safe, including practices for “scaling up” operations, safety actions (e.g., cleaning and disinfection, and physical distancing), monitoring possible reemergence of the virus, and maintaining health operations. Workers who are at high risk for severe illness (i.e., anyone over the age of 65 or with existing health conditions) “should be encouraged to self-identify, and employers should avoid making unnecessary medical inquiries.”

Employers should move to the next phase only if they can ensure a certain level of physical distancing, proper cleaning and disinfection, and protection of workers and customers.

Additionally, employers are advised to limit nonessential travel based on state and local guidance, ask employees who use public transportation to adapt to teleworking, and train all managers on recommended safety actions. This training can be conducted virtually.

The guidance also provides details on conducting routine, daily health checks; planning for when an employee becomes sick; maintaining healthy operations; and when to consider closing because of an illness.