OSHA COVID-19 Inspections – What to Expect, How to Prepare
It may seem like life has been on hold since COVID-19 hit the U.S. workforce, however, OSHA inspections have continued as normal, and now include issues pertaining to the pandemic. The agency has made it clear that despite limitations caused by COVID-19, they are still enforcing safe working conditions at the millions of worksites over which they have jurisdiction.
According to OSHA, “The agency seeks to focus its inspection resources on the most hazardous workplaces in the following order of priority: 1) imminent danger situations, 2) severe injuries and illnesses, 3) worker complaints, 4) referrals of hazards from other federal, state or local agencies, individuals, organizations, or the media, 5) targeted inspections, 6) follow-up inspections.”
Quick hit facts about OSHA’s COVID-19 Response
As of 9/14/20
- Total # of federal outreach activities (complaints or referrals): 10,005
- Total # closed federal cases: 8,155
- Total # state outreach: 29,276
- Total # closed state cases: 19,087
- Total federal inspections opened: 1,011
- Total state inspections opened: 2,561
- Total federal Healthcare complaints: 2,179 (highest among all essential industries including retail trade, grocery stores, construction, general warehousing, restaurants, auto repair)
- 374 of these Healthcare complaints were from nursing/residential care
Information frequently requested during an OSHA COVID-19 inspection or investigation:
Federal and state OSHA plans aim to protect worker safety and both have similar regulations and enforcement processes. An OSHA investigation is usually done offsite via fax, phone, or email, while an inspection is usually conducted onsite over the course of a day or two.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many inspections triggered by an employee complaint are being done offsite – including the opening conference, review and evidence of workplace exposure safety controls, programs and processes, employee interviews, and closing conference. No industry type is exempt from an OSHA investigation or inspection, and employers with healthcare and residential care operations have been contacted most often due to their COVID-19 exposure risk and the number of work-related COVID-19 cases and worker complaints.
If you are inspected or investigated by OSHA related to COVID-19, they will most likely focus on the following information for a specific location, as well as interview a number of your employees:
- OSHA 300 log of recordable illnesses and injuries for up to last 5 years
- OSHA 300A summary of recordable illnesses and injuries for up to last 5 years
- OSHA 301 or other acceptable incident investigation forms for the logged COVID-19 cases
- Evidence of investigation of all employee positive COVID-19 cases to determine work-relatedness
- Timeline and number of confirmed positive employee/ patient COVID-19 cases
- COVID-19 controls implemented (engineering, work practice, PPE)
- Worker/ visitor/ patient symptom screening protocols and related quarantining, isolation, work restriction, and return to work protocols
- Worker exposure risk assessments and corresponding PPE requirements
- Evidence of PPE procurement, employee access, appropriate use, and training
- PPE burn rate calculations and PPE optimization strategies
- Written Respiratory Protection Program and evidence of medical clearance, fit testing, and training
- Written Hazard Communication Program and evidence of training
- Evidence of robust employee communication and training on COVID-19 and infection control
There will be a deadline to respond with the information, and the compliance officer may follow up with more questions if they feel they need more information before closing the inspection and potentially issuing citations.
Common OSHA standards which may be cited at completion of the investigation:
- General Duty Clause (Section 5a of the OSH Act)
- 1904 Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness
- Hazard Communication (1910.1200)
- Housekeeping (1915.81)
- Personal Protective Equipment – PPE (1910.132)
- Respiratory Protection (1910.134)
OSHA investigations are still taking place, even with limitations caused by the pandemic. Organizations would be well served to review company COVID-19 policies, procedures, and controls to ensure they are in line with or better than OSHA standards and public health guidelines. In addition, best practices employers should be aware of are: implementing and documenting robust COVID-19 safety training and communication with employees, addressing employee concerns promptly and documenting actions. Never retaliate against an employee for expressing safety concerns or complaints.
If you receive notice of an OSHA investigation or inspection, contact your M3 account executive immediately for assistance and guidance throughout the process.