- Cal/OSHA has updated its FAQs to align with revisions to the Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) for COVID-19.
- Employers should stay informed about COVID-19 safety compliance through reliable sources, as regulations are continuously evolving.
- A proposed permanent standard for COVID-19 safety in the workplace is set to take effect on January 1, 2023, pending approval.
- Healthcare facilities treating COVID-19 patients face increased inspections by Federal OSHA.
- Key updates in the FAQs include guidelines for responding to COVID-19 cases, deferring to the California Department of Health, employee testing refusals, and outbreak triggers.
- The proposed permanent standard introduces new definitions, such as COVID-19 as a workplace hazard and return-to-work exceptions, and includes additional recordkeeping requirements.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, workplace safety has become paramount. Cal/OSHA, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, has recently issued updates to its FAQs to align with the revisions made to the Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS). Additionally, a proposed permanent standard for COVID-19 safety in the workplace is on the horizon, set to take effect on January 1, 2023. These developments necessitate a comprehensive understanding of the guidelines to ensure compliance and protect the health and safety of employees. In this article, we will explore the updated FAQs, the proposed permanent standard, and the implications for employers. By staying informed about Cal/OSHA’s regulations and requirements, businesses can navigate the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 safety effectively.
Understanding the Updated FAQs
Cal/OSHA’s recently updated FAQs provide crucial guidance on various aspects of COVID-19 safety in the workplace. Let’s delve into some of the key updates that employers should be aware of:
- Responding to COVID-19 Cases: The FAQs outline the steps employers must take when investigating and responding to COVID-19 cases in the workplace. Notably, the updated FAQs mandate that testing must be offered to all employees who have been in close contact with a COVID-19 case. This requirement aligns with the expanded testing provisions in the revised Cal/OSHA ETS. An exception exists for employees who have had COVID-19 within the last 90 days and remained asymptomatic.
- Deferring to the California Department of Health: The FAQs emphasize that certain terms in the ETS can be modified based on definitions provided by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Terms such as “close contact” and “infectious period” may change if the CDPH issues relevant regulations or orders. The current definition of close contact refers to individuals sharing the same indoor airspace for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. The infectious period encompasses specific timelines related to symptom onset and testing.
- Employee Refusal of COVID-19 Testing: Employers are not in violation of the ETS if they offer testing at no cost to employees who subsequently refuse to take the test. Although obtaining a signed declination is not mandatory, it is advisable to do so to mitigate potential claims of non-provision of testing. During major outbreaks, regular viral testing may be required, but antibody testing cannot be mandated.
- Revised Trigger for an Outbreak: The ETS defines an outbreak as three or more employees in an “exposed group” testing positive within 14 days. The exposed group includes employees at a specific work location or common area where a COVID-19 case was present during the infectious period. The updated FAQ clarifies that employees in separate workgroups without overlapping shifts are not considered part of the exposed group. Similarly, employees who were in the same area for less than 15 minutes, while others wore face coverings, are not included in the exposed group. These clarifications are particularly significant for larger workforces operating in shared spaces.
Proposed Permanent Standard for COVID-19 Safety
Cal/OSHA has also released a proposed permanent standard for COVID-19 precautions in the workplace, pending approval. The standard, expected to take effect on January 1, 2023, establishes guidelines for employers to ensure ongoing safety measures. Although the final language is yet to be finalized, the proposed standard shares similarities with the current ETS while introducing notable changes. Let’s explore some of the key elements of the proposed permanent standard:
- COVID-19 as a Workplace Hazard: The proposed permanent standard defines COVID-19 as a workplace hazard. This classification necessitates employers to establish, implement, and maintain an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program that addresses COVID-19 cases. The program should include responsive methods and procedures to handle COVID-19 incidents in the workplace, distinct from outbreak-related testing and reporting requirements.
- Return-to-Work Exceptions: Under the proposed standard, Cal/OSHA may allow employees to return to work if their removal would create an undue risk to the community’s health and safety. Employers in such cases must implement effective control measures to prevent transmission, including isolating employees at the workplace or utilizing respirators. The criteria for determining undue risk to a community’s health and safety are yet to be defined, and additional guidance is expected to clarify this exception.
- Recordkeeping Requirements: The proposed permanent standard introduces additional recordkeeping obligations for employers. This includes documenting the date of positive COVID-19 tests or diagnoses, as well as maintaining records of individuals who had close contact in the workplace. Employers must retain these records for a specified period beyond the regulatory requirements. Additionally, copies of notices sent to employees following a COVID-19 case must be retained.
Federal OSHA Emphasis on Healthcare Facilities
In a recent announcement, Federal OSHA extended its National Emphasis Program (NEP) to target healthcare providers treating COVID-19 patients. This initiative aims to ensure compliance with COVID-19 prevention measures and emphasizes inspections for specific healthcare categories. General Medical and Surgical Hospitals, Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals, Skilled Nursing Facilities, and Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly will be subject to increased scrutiny. Healthcare employers within these categories should review and update their COVID-19 prevention plans, reinforce precautionary measures, and prepare for potential OSHA inspections. Designating managers as points of contact for OSHA communication and seeking legal guidance are recommended steps to navigate the inspection process effectively.
As COVID-19 safety compliance remains a priority, employers must stay updated on the evolving guidelines issued by Cal/OSHA. The updated FAQs provide valuable insights into responding to COVID-19 cases, understanding definitions, handling employee testing refusals, and identifying outbreak triggers. Moreover, the proposed permanent standard for COVID-19 safety introduces critical considerations such as COVID-19 as a workplace hazard, return-to-work exceptions, and recordkeeping requirements. Employers should proactively review their protocols, ensure compliance with the current ETS, and prepare for the potential implementation of the proposed permanent standard. The emphasis on healthcare inspections by Federal OSHA adds an additional layer of importance for healthcare providers. By staying informed and taking proactive measures, businesses can safeguard the well-being of their employees and maintain a safe work environment amidst the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.