OSHA Law Update

A Hazard Communication

Health Care Industry: OSHA Is Quietly Gunning for You – Is Your Workplace Ready?

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

On April 2, 2015, Thomas Galassi, Director of the Directorate of Enforcement for OSHA, sent a memorandum to all Regional Directors announcing that the agency’s National Emphasis Program on Nursing and Residential Care Facilities would be extended until replaced by updated guidance or removed by the agency.  Mr. Galassi went on to state that, because the health care industry reports more work-related injuries and illnesses than any other general industry,

the Agency will continue to use both enforcement and collaborative efforts to address hazards such as musculoskeletal disorders from lifting patients or residents, exposures to tuberculosis, bloodborne pathogens, workplace violence, and slips, trips and falls. We are advising you of the Agency’s intent to soon issue updated guidance that instructs OSHA offices to allocate enforcement and other resources to additional inpatient healthcare facilities, such as nursing homes and hospitals that have occupational illness and injury rates above the industry average.

Also on April 2, OSHA published its revised “Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers” (see related coverage).  Soon thereafter, on May 14, 2015, OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH”) released the Hospital Respiratory Protection Toolkit, providing detailed guidance for health care employers to use in an effort to protect employees from exposure to infectious diseases and other respiratory hazards.

Notably, both of those guidance documents include a preface reminding employers that the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“Act”) requires employers to comply with safety and health standards and regulations promulgated by OSHA and that, in addition, the Act’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.  Employers should not take these statements lightly.

There is no workplace violence prevention standard. Although there is a respiratory standard, the guidance contained in the Hospital Respiratory Protection Toolkit includes requirements that exceed existing OSHA standards.  OSHA is sending a clear sign to health care employers that, if their workplace violence or respiratory protection programs are found wanting, the agency will issue citations under the General Duty Clause.  In fact, in the Hospital Respiratory Protection Toolkit, OSHA went so far as to state that OSHA requires health care employers to evaluate the workplace and expects hospitals to develop respiratory protection policies based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and other public health guidance.  Otherwise, “in the event of an OSHA compliance investigation, an employer’s failure to implement respirator use according to recognized and generally accepted good infection control practices and public health guidance could result in an OSHA citation.”

So what should health care employers be doing right now to prepare for OSHA’s intensely increased scrutiny?

  • Carefully review Epstein Becker Green’s OSHA Inspection Checklist to ensure that you are thoroughly prepared for an inspection.
  • Review the Healthcare Section of OSHA’s website, paying particular attention to the Standards/Enforcement tab, the new Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers, and the new Hospital Respiratory Protection Toolkit. If you are not already in compliance with the applicable standards and guidance, begin compliance efforts immediately.
  • Work with counsel to conduct an internal compliance audit of your facilities, particularly if any facilities have a particularly high rate of work-related injuries and illnesses (be sure to work with outside counsel in conducting such audits so that the resulting audit reports are protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege, otherwise OSHA may be able to subpoena the audit reports and use them to identify potential health and safety issues in the workplace).

The bottom line is that OSHA is coming. Accordingly, employers in the health care industry should act now to ensure that their employees are working in the safest possible conditions and that, when OSHA appears at their door, they can demonstrate their commitment to employee health and safety.

Simple Strategies for Keeping Workers Safe When Working Outside in the Heat

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Wood Cutter Takes Water BreakAs it gets hotter outside, employers should consider how best to protect their employees from work-related heat illness.  Thousands of workers fall victim to heat illness each year, and, tragically, many die from heat exposure at work.

Over the past several years, OSHA has significantly increased its focus on protecting employees from succumbing to heat illness.  Most recently, the agency has released a heat safety tool, available in both English and Spanish, which can be downloaded on an iPhone or Android device.  Employers can and should take advantage of this free app, which calculates the heat index for the worksite and displays a risk level to outdoor workers.  The app also provides a list of the measures that should be taken at that risk level to protect workers from developing heat illness.

Although all employers should be vigilant about protecting their employees from heat illness, employers whose employees spend most of the summer working outdoors (such as those in the construction, trade, transportation and utilities, agriculture, building and grounds maintenance, landscaping services, and support activities for oil and gas operations industries) should be particularly cautious.  Employers should have a heat illness prevention plan in place and ensure that their employees fully understand the dangers of heat illness and how to avoid it.

Although federal OSHA does not have a heat illness standard, the agency relies upon the general duty clause to issue citations for incidents involving heat illness.  Employers with worksites in California should be aware that Cal/OSHA does have comprehensive heat illness regulations in place, which have recently been enhanced, requiring employers to take many of the actions listed below—and then some—including maintaining a set of written procedures for complying with the state’s heat illness prevention standard.  Stricter regulations went into effect on May 1, 2015.

By taking just a few extra precautions, employers can significantly reduce the possibility of workers being affected by heat illness and demonstrate their commitment to worker safety.  Simple steps that every employer can take include:

  • implementing a period of acclimation into employees’ work schedules—gradually increasing the amount of time that they spend working in the heat, as well as the level of exertion;
  • making water readily available and encouraging employees to drink water at least every 15 minutes, even if they do not feel thirsty;
  • training employees on the signs of heat illness and how to respond to a heat illness emergency;
  • encouraging employees to wear a hat and light-colored clothing; and
  • encouraging employees to rest in the shade and cool down, as needed, and ensuring that they understand that they will not be reprimanded for taking such action.

Protect Workers From The Number One Cause of Workplace Deaths – Distracted Driving

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Distracted driving is the number one cause of workplace deaths in the United States.  OSHA has partnered with the National Safety Council to call employers’ attention to this issue Distracted Drivingand urge the adoption of safe driving policies.  Failure to adopt and enforce such policies in the workplace leads to tragic results and OSHA has made it perfectly clear that employers who do not take this issue seriously should expect OSHA citations.  On its distracted driving webpage, the agency has stated that employers “have a responsibility and legal obligation to have a clear, unequivocal, and enforced policy against texting while driving.”

But to truly protect your employees from the hazards of distracted driving, your policy should cover more than just texting.  A comprehensive policy should cover all employees, both handheld and hands-free devices, company vehicles, company cell phones and all work-related communications.  All employees should be forbidden to use cell phones, hands-free devices, and any other mobile electronics while operating a vehicle when:

  • the vehicle is owned, leased, or rented by the employer
  • a personal motor vehicle is used in connection with company business
  • the motor vehicle is on the employer’s property
  • the cell phone or mobile electronic device is owned or leased by the employer
  • the cell phone or mobile electronic device is used to conduct company business

Employers should strongly discourage distracted driving by incorporating written safe driving policies into employee handbooks, providing training on these policies during worker orientation, and providing annual refresher training.  Safe communication practices should be put in place such as established procedures, times, and places for drivers’ safe use of cell phones and other electronic devices for communicating with supervisors, customers, and others.  To the extent that the employer has any programs in place that could incentivize employees to use cell phones or other electronic devices while driving, they should be eliminated.

Finally, safe driving policies must be enforced – it is not enough simply to write a policy and provide employee training.  As we have all become so dependent on our cell phones and other mobile electronic devices, it is likely that some employees will resist or simply ignore these policies, but enforcement is necessary to truly improve employee safety.  Accordingly, employers should reprimand employees who violate safe driving policies and those reprimands should involve serious penalties, including, where appropriate, termination.  There is no way to protect employees from every hazard they may encounter on the road, but implementing a strong safe driving program will go a long way towards decreasing the likelihood of a workplace tragedy on the road.

 

OSHA’s Increased Emphasis on Protecting Health Care and Social Service Workers from Workplace Violence

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

For many years, OSHA has stressed the need for enhanced workplace violence policies to protect health care and social service workers.  The agency released guidelines for workplace violence prevention in the health care and social services industries in both 1996 and 2004, recognizing that caregivers are at an increased risk of unpredictable, violent behavior from the very people whom they provide care to.  In spite of these efforts, violence in health care and social service workplaces continues to rise.  In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported more than 23,000 serious injuries due to assault at work.  More than 70 percent of those assaults took place in health care or social service settings.  Health care and social service workers are almost four times more likely than the average private sector worker to be injured as a result of an assault.

Re-emphasizing its commitment to reducing this risk, OSHA published its revised Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers on April 2, 2015.  The revised guidelines are significantly more comprehensive than those released by the agency in the past, and they include a number of tools, such as a workplace violence prevention program checklist, to enable employers to more easily navigate and implement OSHA’s suggested strategies.

The new guidance calls for a five-part program consisting of:

  1. management commitment and worker participation—OSHA deems management responsible for controlling hazards by, among other things, urging all levels of management to become deeply involved in all aspects of the workplace violence prevention program, and worker participation should be required because workers can help identify and assess workplace hazards;
  1. worksite analysis and hazard identification—management and workers are called upon to work together to assess records, existing procedures, and operations for jobs, employee surveys, and workplace security analyses;
  1. hazard prevention and control—after the worksite analysis is complete, employers should take appropriate steps to prevent or control the identified hazards and periodically evaluate the effectiveness of the chosen controls and improve, expand, or update them, as needed;
  1. safety and health training—all workers (including contractors and temporary employees) should receive training on the workplace violence prevention program at least annually and, in particularly high-risk settings, as often as monthly or quarterly to effectively reach and inform all workers; and
  1. recordkeeping and program evaluation—OSHA logs of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (OSHA Form 300), worker injury reports, information regarding patients with a history of violence, and other documents reflecting trends or patterns at the workplace should be studied and the effectiveness of the workplace violence prevention program should be frequently evaluated and improved, as necessary.

Although there is no formal OSHA standard regarding workplace violence, the agency has invested significant resources into providing health care and social service employers with an all-encompassing set of guidelines to enable these employers to create high-quality workplace violence prevention programs.  OSHA has already announced that it intends to increase enforcement efforts in the health care and social services industries in the coming year. If OSHA conducts an inspection and finds that an employer’s workplace violence prevention program is lacking, the agency could issue the employer a citation under the General Duty Clause for failing to provide workers with a safe and healthy work environment.

Accordingly, health care and social service employers are well advised to review OSHA’s new guidelines and to work closely with employees to develop a program appropriate for their worksites.  Taking this step will provide critically important protection for employees, increase employee engagement in safety and health efforts, and reduce the possibility of receiving a citation for an inadequate workplace violence prevention program.

Five Steps Toward Boosting Employee Safety and Avoiding OSHA Citations

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

I recently authored Epstein Becker Green’s March issue of Take 5 in which I outline actionable steps that employers can take to improve safety and avoid costly OSHA citations. Take 5 banner

Following is an excerpt:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) was created by Congress to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for employees. OSHA establishes standards and provides training and compliance assistance. It also enforces its standards with investigations and citations.

Although it’s impossible for employers to mitigate against every conceivable hazard in the workplace, there are five critical steps that every employer should take to improve safety in the workplace—and avoid costly OSHA citations. Read on for the steps:

  1. Conduct an Internal Safety and Health Audit Under Attorney-Client Privilege
  2. Create a Strong Safety Culture
  3. Ensure That Safety and Health Documentation Is Current and Well Communicated
  4. Train Employees in Safety and Health, Regularly and Comprehensively
  5. Protect Contractors and Temporary Workers, Too

Click here to read the full Take 5 online.

OSHA’s Appropriations Efforts Signal Increased Enforcement and Higher Penalties in 2015

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

President Obama’s recent budget proposal to Congress includes a proposed $592.1 million budget for OSHA this fiscal year — a 7 percent increase from fiscal 2015.  Although gaining approval of the proposal will surely be an uphill battle, which may be insurmountable in light of opposition from Republican lawmakers who oversee the appropriations process, the content of OSHA’s budget justification provides strong signals of its agenda for the coming year.

First, OSHA seeks to add 90 full-time positions to the agency for fiscal 2016.  Sixty of the new positions would be assigned to enforcement activities – forty of the new enforcement employees would be assigned to inspect the anticipated 50,000 – 75,000 new injury and hospitalization reports the agency expects to receive in fiscal 2016 in response to new reporting requirements that took effect on January 1, 2015 (the new reporting regime requires employers to report to OSHA within 24 hours any work-related hospital admissions, amputations, or eye losses).  The other twenty enforcement employees would be assigned to high hazard, complex inspections, such as inspections of worksites where the Process Safety Management standard applies or musculoskeletal disorders may be at issue.  OSHA states that without this increase in manpower, it will be forced to eliminate many planned inspections of high hazard workplaces, shifting its inspection priorities to responding to injury and hospitalization reports.

Next OSHA urged Congress to increase the statutory civil penalties for workplace health and safety violations.  The OSH Act is one of only four statutes not covered by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act, which includes a mechanism to increase fixed penalties to keep pace with inflation.  Without the benefit of this mechanism, OSHA has only been able to increase its civil monetary penalties once in the last forty years.  Although OSHA was not explicit in its budget justification, it appears the agency seeks funding for its efforts to increase the monetary civil penalties that the agency can impose in its citations in an effort to increase their deterrent effect.

Even if OSHA receives none of the additional funding it seeks, employers should take note of the clear signals that OSHA has given employers of its intentions in its budget justification:

  • OSHA fully intends to respond to the thousands of injuries it expects will be reported in response to the new recordkeeping rule.  Employers must make certain that their safety and human resources professionals know when and how to appropriately report injuries to OSHA and should expect OSHA to act upon these reports.
  • OSHA is likely to impose greater penalties, even in the absence of an increase to the statutory penalties currently available to the agency.  OSHA inspectors do not consistently impose the maximum penalties available to them when issuing citations under the current penalty scheme.  Having clearly expressed its dissatisfaction with the deterrent effect of its penalties, OSHA will likely urge its compliance officers to impose the highest possible penalties when issuing citations going forward.
  • High hazard workplaces remain a top priority for OSHA.  The agency will, to the extent possible, continue to deploy its inspectors to businesses with high injury and illness rates, worksites subject to the Process Safety Management standard, and worksites presenting musculoskeletal issues.

OSHA has been very aggressive in its enforcement efforts and in seeking large penalties over the last several months.  The initiatives it has outlined in its budget justification signal that this will not change, and in fact, will become more intense in coming months.  Employers are well-advised to learn their rights and best practices for preparing for an OSHA Inspection.  Moreover, employers with worksites that present any of the high hazard risks outlined above should seriously consider engaging counsel to conduct an attorney-client privileged OSHA compliance audit.  The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission has held that compliance audit reports created by third party experts are protected from disclosure to OSHA when they are conducted to aid counsel in providing compliance advice.  By conducting such an audit, employers can assess for themselves whether they should be concerned when OSHA comes knocking and if so, improve safety practices and equipment on their own initiative.  Such actions demonstrate an employer’s commitment to safety, while protecting against the ominous possibility of OSHA using its internal audit report as a guide to potential health and safety issues in the workplace.

Encore Webinar: OSHA Forecast: Developments to Watch in 2015 and Beyond

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Valerie Butera, Member of the Firm in the Labor and Employment practice, will present a complimentary webinar, hosted by Midwest Employers Casualty Company, on January 27 at 11:00 a.m. EST titled “OSHA Forecast: Developments to Watch in 2015 and Beyond.”

This webinar will delve into OSHA issues that will impact a wide range of industries in 2015. In addition to a greater focus on enforcements and inspections, changes will occur for recording injuries and illnesses in the OSHA 300 Injury and Illness Recordkeeping log as well as reporting changes of severe injuries or illnesses.

For more information and to register for this webinar, click here.

Are Your Drivers Following OSHA’s Best Practices for Winter Driving?

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

On January 11, 2015, a multi-vehicle pile-up took place in west Michigan involving nearly 200 vehicles, including at least one truck carrying fireworks, and another carrying formic acid.  The formic acid caused a HAZMAT event and the fireworks exploded in the truck that was carrying them.  Many were badly injured in the accident, including two firefighters who responded to the exploding fireworks.  Tragically, the driver of another semi-truck was killed.

Winter weather and hazardous driving conditions were significant causal factors in the pile-up.  Although OSHA does not have regulations specifically addressing winter driving, the agency does provide guidance for employers to help ensure the safety of employees engaged in this work.  Specifically, OSHA urges employers to take the following measures:

  • Train drivers how to recognize winter driving hazards, such as snow and ice-covered roads
  • Train drivers on the safeguards they should take in winter driving conditions
  • Ensure that drivers are properly licensed for the vehicles they operate
  • Create and enforce driver safety policies
  • Implement an effective maintenance program for all vehicles and mechanized equipment that workers are required to operate
  • Ensure that properly trained employees inspect the following vehicle systems to determine if they are working properly:
    • Brakes – Brakes should provide even and balanced braking.  Also check that brake fluid is at the right level.
    • Cooling system – Ensure a proper mixture of 50/50 antifreeze and water in the cooling system at the proper level.
    • Electrical system – Check the ignition system and ensure that the battery is fully charged and that the connections are clean.  Check that the alternator belt is in good condition with proper tension.
    • Engine – Inspect all engine systems.
    • Exhaust System – Check exhaust for leaks and that all clamps and hangers are snug.
    • Tires – Check for proper tread depth and no signs of damage or uneven wear.  Check for proper tire inflation.
    • Oil – Check that oil is at proper level.
    • Visibility Systems – Inspect all exterior lights, defrosters, and wipers.  Install winter windshield wipers.
  • Ensure that there is an emergency kit in every vehicle

In order to keep employees safe on the road, employers should also quiz employees to ensure that they understood the training.  Results of the quizzes and any other training-related documents should be kept on file.  All paperwork related to vehicle maintenance should be kept on file as well.  Even though there are no OSHA regulations specific to winter driving, and employers certainly cannot control everything, they must always provide the safest possible work for their employees and OSHA can issue citations where it finds that an employer has failed to do so – even where there are no specific standards regulating the potential hazard.  By taking these simple measures, employers can demonstrate their commitment to safety to both their employees and to OSHA.

OSHA’s Revised Recordkeeping and Reporting Rules for Retail in 2015

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Valerie ButeraRetailers, get ready for OSHA’s revised recordkeeping and reporting rules, effective January 1, 2015.

As I note in my Act Now Advisory—“What Do OSHA’s Revised Recordkeeping and Reporting Rules Really Mean for Retailers?”—several additional retail industries will be required to keep records of serious occupational injuries and illnesses, and several are no longer subject to the rules. The new reporting requirements apply to all retailers, even those included in the exempt list.

See the advisory for more information – below is an excerpt of my tips for retail employers:

  • Train your safety and human resource professionals and your managers on the new reporting requirements.  Again, all retailers must promptly report to OSHA any fatalities, amputations, loss of eye incidents, or in-patient hospitalizations.
  • Be aware that you can report to OSHA by:
    1. Calling OSHA’s free and confidential number: 1-800-321-OSHA (6742)
    2. Calling your closest Area Office during normal business hours
    3. Using the new online form that will soon be available on OSHA’s website
  • If you have retail establishments in one or more of the jurisdictions with a state plan, contact the state plan’s office to determine when you must comply with the rule and if the state plans’ reporting rules have additional requirements.  OSHA has encouraged state plans to require compliance by January 1 but recognizes that not all plans will be able to do so.
  • Contact counsel for advice on how to best navigate an OSHA inspection to ensure your preparedness should OSHA decide to investigate the circumstances leading to a reportable injury or illness.
  • To the extent that any of these newly reportable incidents have taken place at any of your retail establishments in the past, review the details of the incident and audit that facility and others that you believe may pose safety concerns.  Identify safety hazards and address any possible health or safety hazards that you discover.
  • If you are among the newly identified retail industries required to complete OSHA’s injury and illness recordkeeping, seek assistance from counsel in navigating these very complex requirements.  Ensure that safety and human resource professionals in your organization are properly trained and fully understand how and when to record an occupational illness or injury in your OSHA logs.
  • Retailers that have already been subject to the recordkeeping standard should review their logs to spot potential trouble spots, and provide refresher training to safety and human resource professionals in order to help ensure full compliance with the rules.

Complimentary Webinar Video: OSHA Forecast, 2015 and Beyond

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

See below for a recording of my recent webinar, “OSHA Forecast: Developments to Watch in 2015 and Beyond.”

As I discuss, in 2015, many more industries will for the first time be required by OSHA to record injuries and illnesses in the OSHA 300 Injury and Illness Recordkeeping log. The reporting of severe injuries or illnesses is also changing, and we anticipate a greater focus on enforcements and inspections.

Topics include:

  • Where we are now and the direction of OSHA in 2015
  • Recording and recordkeeping requirements
  • Whistleblowing and its impact on your business
  • Preparing for increased OSHA inspections of incidents
  • Rulemaking and potential changes in current programs
  • Ebola and other infectious diseases

The video is also available on Epstein Becker Green’s Youtube channelclick here to download the slides.