By Gabrielle Sigel, Co-Chair, Environmental and Workplace Health and Safety Law Practice
On April 16, 2020, OSHA released an “alert” with “safety tips” that manufacturing employers “can follow to help protect manufacturing workers from OSHA liability.” (“Manufacturers Alert”) (emphasis added). Although the “alert” is not a regulation which OSHA can directly enforce, OSHA may attempt to use an alert as a basis for imposing liability on employers under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause. In any case, employers should expect that OSHA compliance officers will use the Manufacturers Alert to evaluate enforcement options in response to employee complaints about coronavirus exposure in the workplace. In addition, employees may view the Manufacturers Alert as a checklist to evaluate their workplaces and for complaints to OSHA and their employers. The full list of OSHA’s “tips” are provided at the end of this article.
OSHA’s Manufacturers Alert was issued on the same day that the White House issued its guidelines for “Opening Up America Again” (“the Guidelines”). The Guidelines include recommendations specifically targeted to employers prior to a State or region reopening for business. Notably, OSHA’s Manufacturers Alert did not include several precautions or directions to employers that were listed in the Guidelines, including directions to employers to conduct symptom monitoring, temperature checks, and contact tracing, and to obtain clearance by a medical provider before a symptomatic worker can return to the workplace.
According to the Guidelines, all employers should:
Develop and implement appropriate policies, in accordance with Federal, State, and local regulations guidance, and informed by industry practices, regarding:
- Social distancing and protective equipment
- Temperature checks
- Testing, isolating, and contact tracing
- Use and disinfection of common and high-traffic areas
- Business travel
Previously, OSHA published “Ten Steps All Workplaces Can Take to Reduce Risk of Exposure to Coronavirus.” The Manufacturers Alert adds six-foot physical distancing to those “Ten Steps” and tells manufacturing employers to consider limiting closer work or taking “innovative approaches” to limit exposures during closer work. Unlike the Ten Steps, the Manufacturers Alert also includes directions to allow workers to wear masks at work and to train workers on donning, doffing, and maintaining protective clothing and equipment.
OSHA’s Manufacturers Alert lists the following 12 “tips:”
- Encourage workers to stay home if they are sick.
- Establish flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), if feasible.
- Practice sensible social distancing and maintain six feet between co-workers, where possible.
- For work activities where social distancing is a challenge, consider limiting the duration of these activities and/or implementing innovative approaches, such as temporarily moving or repositioning workstations to create more distance or installing barriers (e.g., plexiglass shields) between workstations.
- Monitor public health communications about COVID-19 recommendations for the workplace and ensure that workers have access to and understand that information.
- Train workers on how to properly put on, use/wear, take-off, and maintain protective clothing and equipment.
- Allow workers to wear masks over their nose and mouth to prevent spread of the virus.
- Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
- Discourage workers from using other workers’ tools and equipment.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning chemicals from List N or that have label claims against the coronavirus.
- Promote personal hygiene. If workers do not have access to soap and water for handwashing, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol. Provide disinfectants and disposable towels workers can use to clean work surfaces.
- Encourage workers to report any safety and health concerns.
For regular updates about the impact of COVID‑19 in the workplace and on business generally, please visit Jenner & Block’s Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog and Jenner & Block’s COVID‑19 Resource Center.