The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 provides the national framework for worker protections and empowers the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create and enforce worker protection standards. The OSH Act authorizes states to apply to OSHA for delegation of this authority (referred to as “state plan states”). In addition to these agency actions, however, the OSH Act also empowers the workers themselves to stand up for these rights, and to complain to agencies when they believe their rights are being violated. Beginning in 1973, OSHA has promulgated regulations formalizing employee rights to be free of adverse actions by their employers – “discrimination” in the language of the law and regulations – for exercising their rights to self-protection (codified in 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 1977). Effective September 3, 2021, OSHA has updated these part 1977 regulations to track US Supreme Court decisions that tend to narrow employee rights somewhat. The remainder of this note summarizes OSHA’s part 1977 regulations and discusses the latest revisions.
Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog
As the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed, public health and worker safety agencies have issued and re-issued directions to employers. On August 13, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revised its benchmark guidance for workplace COVID-19 risk management. The remainder of this note summarizes OSHA’s newly-revised “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.” (I wrote about the initial January 2021 version HERE and the June 2021 revisions HERE). This revision responds to “breakthrough” infections among vaccinated people by incorporating the latest the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) recommendations for masking of employees who are fully vaccinated but work in “areas of substantial or high community transmission” – which as of this writing covers nearly 95% of US counties.
The remainder of this note summarizes the guidance (including unchanged elements) and then highlights the new masking guidance.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is conducting a formal public review to consider whether to update its Mechanical Power Presses Standard (29 CFR section 1910.217). OSHA issued the Standard in 1971, and adopted the only formal revision in 1988 (to recognize and guide use of sensers to protect press operators). OSHA has also included these devices in a series of “National Emphasis Programs” intended to focus on safety and compliance. OSHA published a request for public comments in the July 28, 2021 Federal Register, seeking suggestions by October 28. The remainder of this note summarizes the longstanding existing requirements, and questions raised by OSHA in this first general review in half a century.
Public health and worker safety agencies have issued and re-issued directions to employers for coping with the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Most of these directives have been non-binding recommendations, although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state OSH agencies have reminded employers that their “General Duty Clause(s)” requires protective responses to recognized hazards. (most recently, in June OSHA revised its generally-applicable guidelines “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace”; I wrote about these HERE). Several states have taken the additional step and issued COVID regulations, beginning with Virginia in July 2020 (I wrote about it HERE).Read More
In recent months, worker protection and public health agencies have issued increasingly stringent and detailed guidelines for employers to follow to reduce worker exposures to COVID-19. I’ve written about a number of these, including HERE and HERE. Over the same months, many workplaces have also been affected by state and local government mandates designed to protect public health in places the public (at least previously) frequent – these include temporary closures of many types of organizations, and restrictions such as masks at others.Read More
Beginning July 1, 2020, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (usually called “Cal/OSHA”) oversees requirements for workplace lighting to assist and protect employees who perform agricultural work outside at night. These include requirements for lighting to illuminate work activities and the workers themselves, including operation of front and rear lights on vehicles. Although these new requirements only apply directly if your organization employs agricultural workers in California, any other organization whose workers are active outside at night should compare its measures to these new standards.
Effective May 26, 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revised its (interim) enforcement guidance for its inspectors and personnel use when investigating whether an employer properly classified a workplace illness involving COVID-19. This guidance expands and replaces the version OSHA issued on April 10 -- it does not affect the agency’s broader enforcement guidance for cases considering whether an employer unreasonably exposed employees to COVID-19 (which I wrote about here), although it’s easy to imagine scenarios where inspectors could be called upon to investigate both types of potential violations. OSHA states this guidance will remain effective until the present public health crisis ends, unless revised again.Read More
On March 26, 2020 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a temporary enforcement policy, effective retroactively to March 13 and continuing until repealed or revised. The agency cites the overarching need for public health and safety, and anticipates that “the pandemic may affect facility operations and the availability of key staff and contractors and the ability of laboratories to timely analyze samples and provide results.” In particular, EPA references likely personnel shortages, and proliferating travel and social distancing restrictions. Accordingly, EPA’s new policy sets out conditions under which an entity can reduce or suspend its compliance activities, including monitoring and reporting, for the duration of a period during which “compliance is not reasonably practicable.”
Because the new policy does not provide useful thresholds or criteria for coronavirus-induced impracticality, there’s no realistic way to anticipate its impacts. Regulated entities and their organizations have generally expressed appreciation, while environmental and other organizations that distrust the contemporary EPA have generally expressed outrage. The remainder of this note will summarize the scope and organization of the new policy, leaving the reader to judge how it may be implemented.Read More
How can employers protect workers against coronavirus exposures? In expanding parts of the country, most employers do so by complying with applicable Shelter in Place orders. Workplaces still in operation face more complicated occupational health situations.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; directly and through its subsidiary National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)) and other occupational health agencies issue guidelines for workplace safety, which can be used in locations that are still open. (This approach is typical; I wrote about their Zika Virus guidelines HERE). In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides interpretive guidance on how to apply disabilities and anti-discrimination laws to the design and implementation of protective programs.Read More