As you may be aware, the long awaited COVID-19 ETS was published in the Federal Register on June 21, 2021. The publication of the standard sets the compliance clocks in motion at the Federal level with the bulk of requirements due by July 6, 2021 and the remainder due by July 21, 2021. As of the date of publication of this blog post, South Carolina OSHA has not published their plan for implementation of the new standard yet, so those clocks are still paused for now. For additional details to determine whether the ETS applies to you, see OSHA’s fact sheet “Is Your Workplace Covered by the ETS”.
OSHA refers to the hazard assessments as a “core element” of your required COVID-19 response plan as it will drive all remaining aspects of your plan. The language provided by the actual standard regarding hazard assessments is brief, but thankfully, in both the Federal Register publication and the FAQ page we are given additional guidance as to what this assessment entails.
Employers are required to inspect the entire workplace to identify current and potential exposure hazards for all employees to include an evaluation of all employees’ potential exposure from all people present at the workplace (coworkers, visitors, vendors, etc.) and occasions when an employee comes within six feet of another person. There is flexibility allowing you to determine the best approach for conducting the assessment as long as all employee workplaces have been evaluated. OSHA does not require redundancy in assessment areas if the hazards are the same. For example, you do not have to assess each shift in each area if the hazards are the same across the shifts.
When doing the physical assessment look for/at the following:
- Determine when, where and under what circumstances an employee may come within 6’ of another person (coworkers, patients, visitors, vendors, etc.)
- Places and times where people may congregate must be addressed even if the employee is not performing a work task at the time of exposure (entrances, bathrooms, elevators, breakrooms, etc.)
- Consider how employees and others enter, leave and travel in the workplace
- Anticipate duration of exposures
- Work performed at fixed work locations (patient billing) vs. work that is more mobile (patient care)
- Controls implemented in the environment (masks, ventilation, barriers)
- Observe work habits and work areas
- Review policies and procedures regarding your institution’s expectations for other disease exposures (TB, BBP, Pertussis, etc.)
- Review meeting/committee notes
- Evaluate hazard information shared by employees.
Non-managerial employees must be involved in the hazard assessment, development of the response plan and its implementation (1910.504(c)(5)). Options given for soliciting their feedback includes safety meetings, conversations between managers and non-managers, anonymous suggestion boxes, and any other interactive process.
One you have completed your hazard assessment at least the following should be documented:
- Specific hazards or risk factors identified
- A plan to abate the identified hazards or risk factors in a timely manner
- Date(s) the assessment was performed
- The names and titles of the individuals who participated in the evaluation and contributed to the written plan
- A description of the actions to be taken
- Actions planned to address and prioritize mitigation of identified hazards or risk factors
- Identification of high-risk area(s), tasks, and occupations
- Communication of the status of planned or completed actions to employees who may be affected by the identified hazards or risk factors
- The dates by which planned actions are to be completed
- Written documentation of completed actions including:
- What method(s) of control was/were decided upon
- Area(s) where control(s) was/were implemented
- Specific date(s) of completion
- The names and titles of the individuals who authorized and managed implementation of control.
Upon the completion of the hazard assessment, employers will be in a better position to help employees understand their workplace exposures and train them accordingly. Training requirements of the standard come into force at the Federal level on July 21, 2021 and will be covered in a future post.