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What Facility Managers Need To Know About OSHA Standards In 2021

What Facility Manager Need To Know About OSHA Standards In 2021

Keeping abreast of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations is just one of the many responsibilities of a facility manager, but it's an important one. This is especially true post-COVID  the agency has updated its inspection policy, issued guidance relating to inspections, and adjusted its civil penalties for infractions. 2021 has just begun, so there's no time like the present to catch up with all of the new information. These changes include:

1. OSHA's annual adjustment to civil penalties.

OSHA periodically changes their penalties to account for cost-of-living increases. This helps with compliance since it ensures that penalties continue to act as a deterrent as the economic landscape changes. The maximum penalty for serious or other-than-serious violations will be $13,653, up from $13,494. The maximum penalty for repeated or willful violations will be $136,532, up from $134,937. These will apply to any infractions discovered after January 15th, 2021. For more information on the increases, please visit OSHA's page on Penalty Payment.

2. New guidance on COVID-19 inspections.

COVID-related inspections have their own particular emphasis, and it's not uncommon for employers to receive citations for infractions they may not have even noticed before. To help employers avoid penalties and keep employees safe, OSHA has issued special guidance (and a one-page overview) outlining the most common COVID-related citations. Some of the regulations employers fail at most frequently include:

  • Performing appropriate fit tests for employees using respirators.
  • Providing medical evaluations before fit tests or respirator use.
  • Establishing, implementing, and updating a written respiratory protection policy, including protective measures specific to each worksite.
  • Properly storing personal protective equipment.
  • Properly maintaining records of injuries, illnesses, and fatalities, including reporting fatalities that happen within 30 days of a work-related incident.

3. Updated site-specific targeting policy.

OSHA recently developed a new category for employers with consistent increases in their rates of injury and illness, as assessed over a three-year period. The agency also created special inspection procedures to help avoid employers who erroneously end up included in the category due to incorrect data. Under this new policy, OSHA will create lists of workplaces with high rates of Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred (DART), and sites whose numbers have steadily increased over 2017-2019. After being placed on a list, businesses will be sorted into one of four sub-categories. These include:

  • Workplaces with injury and illness numbers higher than their industry's average.
  • Workplaces with above-average numbers in 2017, which have continued to trend upward.
  • Workplaces with below-average numbers in 2019, to assess the efficacy of OSHA's reporting mechanism.
  • Workplaces that failed to report data.

If a compliance safety and health officer determines that a workplace was included in error, they may conduct a records-only inspection. During this inspection, the officer must conduct a walkthrough of a relevant worksite, and interview employees to assess the workplace's actual history of illness and injury. For more information, please read OSHA's overview of recording work-related injuries and illnesses.

4. Potential changes coming with the new Presidential administration.

After his inauguration, President-elect Biden may choose to create a new emergency standard for COVID-19 using OSHA. While OSHA currently has the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, which addresses Hepatitis B vaccines, it doesn't yet have one in place for COVID vaccines. If this new standard addresses COVID, employers may be required to provide vaccines to their employees. The hepatitis B standard largely protects healthcare workers. The novel coronavirus is much more easily transmissible, and any public-facing position or work in close quarters puts employees at risk of contracting the disease. If OSHA chooses to create a COVID standard based on the Bloodborne Pathogen standard, it may mean that employers must:

  • Offer COVID vaccines to at-risk workers, at no cost, shortly after training.
  • Train employees on the vaccine's efficacy, safety, and benefits.
  • Obtain a written recommendation from a healthcare provider on whether or not an employee is fit to receive the vaccine.
  • Require employees who decline the vaccine to sign a form acknowledging their decision.

It should be emphasized that this vaccine policy is still speculation based on the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, and has not yet been codified or put into action. Even so, employers should anticipate some form of COVID standard shortly after President-elect Biden's inauguration. It may be wise to look to the existing hepatitis B vaccine policy to inform their decisions and prepare for any upcoming changes. The novel coronavirus has altered many of the ways that employers treat workplace safety, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is working to follow suit. While keeping up with policy changes may be confusing, OSHA has provided several resources to outline and explain these changes on the agency's website.

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