Meeting Workplace Compliance Obligations During COVID-19: OSHA Issues Guidance for Inspections, Audits, Employee Training, and More
April 20, 2020
Businesses everywhere have been forced to take unprecedented steps to address ongoing workflow, labor, and resource disruptions in response to COVID-19 and governmental directives. During this unprecedented time, it may be easy to forget, or near impossible to comply with, recurring compliance obligations, such as annual trainings, inspections, and audits required by OSHA standards. Fortunately, OSHA released guidance on April 17 that may provide employers with some degree of relief.
OSHA issued the guidance document titled Discretion in Enforcement when Considering an Employer’s Good Faith Efforts During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic (dated April 16). It directs agency personnel to exercise enforcement discretion during inspections based upon an employer’s good-faith compliance efforts. OSHA’s guidance acknowledges that many of the safety and health professionals that businesses rely upon for coordinating recurring compliance obligations, such as audiometric testing or HAZWOPER training, are unavailable due to temporary business closures and travel restrictions. In response, OSHA has directed its compliance officers to consider an employer’s good-faith efforts to comply with applicable standards, such as by using virtual training platforms or instituting temporary protective measures, when determining whether to issue a citation.
Employers that encounter disruptions (e.g., cancelled training sessions, testing facility closures) should closely track and document their efforts to arrange for alternative compliance measures. If alternative compliance measures cannot be implemented, employers must be careful to ensure that employees will not be exposed to workplace hazards for which they are neither prepared nor trained to address. While OSHA’s guidance may afford employers with some flexibility during the public health crisis, employers that have exhausted available alternatives must be prepared to return to compliance as soon as possible.
In light of OSHA’s guidance, employers should again review their occupational safety and health programs to identify compliance deadlines that may be impacted by COVID-19 and consider their options. Where disruptions are identified, employers should make good-faith efforts to implement alternative compliance measures to ensure the safety of their employees and avoid potentially costly enforcement actions.
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