Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard Approved and Immediately Effective

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Earlier today, we shared an update about Cal/OSHA’s fast-moving rulemaking for an emergency COVID-19 prevention rule, along with a detailed summary of how we got here, as well as an outline of what the California rule will require.

We wanted to give you an update as soon as we heard, and we just heard… OAL has officially approved Cal/OSHA’s emergency COVID-19 prevention regulation.  OAL’s website was just updated with this entry:

And here is the Cal/OSHA website reflecting the current status of the rule and the final approved regulation language: “Text Approved by OAL.

As Cal/OSHA’s website notes, the rule was filed with the Secretary of State today, and it is immediately effective – all provisions.  However, during the Board’s final public hearing about the rule, the Division suggested Read More

CDC Updates Return-to-Work Guidance Again – Reduces Quarantine Time

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we noted in a Client Alert last month, the CDC issued its new guidance for “Close Contacts” in a way that would make quarantine circumstances much more likely; i.e., CDC’s new definition of close contact makes it explicit that the 15-minute exposure period (i.e., within 6-feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes) should be assessed based on a cumulative amount of time over 24 hours, rather than just a single, continuous 15-minute interaction.

Creating even more challenges for maintaining adequate staffing, the CDC issued additional guidance in November limiting the flexibility to keep asymptomatic critical infrastructure workers at work after a close contact exposure:

Employers may consider allowing exposed and asymptomatic critical infrastructure workers to continue to work in select instances when it is necessary to preserve the function of critical infrastructure workplaces. This option should be used as a last resort and only in limited circumstances, such as when cessation of operation of a facility may cause serious harm or danger to public health or safety.

Those two changes combined to make staffing a real challenge as we move firmly into the second big wave of COVID-19 cases.

Perhaps because of those challenges, today, the CDC issued new guidance that would reduce the duration of many quarantines from 14 days to 10 days and, in some cases to 7 days.  Specifically, CDC identified the following options as acceptable alternatives to a 14-day quarantine:

  • Quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring.
  • If testing is available, then quarantine can end after Day 7 if a respiratory specimen tests negative and no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring.  The specimen may be collected and tested within 48 hours before the time of planned quarantine discontinuation (e.g., in anticipation of testing delays), but quarantine cannot be discontinued earlier than after Day 7; i.e., testing should be initiated no earlier than Day 5 after the close contact exposure occurs.

Read More

What Employers Need to Know About Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccines

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

With the availability of a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine edging closer and closer, employers understandably have a number of questions regarding their role in the workplace – whether and when they can require a vaccination, what exceptions are required in a mandatory vaccination program, and whether they should require (as opposed to encourage and facilitate) the COVID-19 vaccine for employees once it becomes available. 

This summer, the World Health Organization reported that nearly 200 potential vaccines were currently being developed in labs across the world, and as of mid-October, disclosed that more than 40 had advanced to clinical stage testing on humans.  Drug manufacturers estimate that a vaccine will be ready and approved for general use by the end of this year, although logistically not ready for widespread distribution until mid-2021.

Indeed, just over the past couple of weeks, Pfizer and Moderna have made promising announcements regarding the results of their clinical trials.  Namely, on Monday, November 9, 2020, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that a vaccine candidate against COVID-19 achieved success in the firm interim analysis from the Phase 3 study.  The vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in participants without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in the first interim efficacy analysis.  According to the announcement, submission for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planned for soon after the required safety milestone is achieved, which is currently expected to occur this week.  Additionally, as reported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on November 16, 2020, there have been promising interim results from a clinical trial of a NIH-Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.  An independent data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) reported that the vaccine candidate was safe and well-tolerated and noted a vaccine efficacy rate of 94.5%.

As the reality of a vaccination nears, employers are inquiring Read More

California’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard adopted by the Cal/OSH standards board

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Not to be outdone by Virginia OSHA, Oregon OSHA, or Michigan OSHA, Cal/OSHA is on the precipice of issuing an onerous COVID-19 specific regulation that is expected to be issued, with all provisions immediately effective, next week.  Below is detailed summary of how we got here, as well as an outline of what the California rule will require.

On November 19, 2020, the California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (“Board”) voted unanimously to adopt an Emergency COVID-19 Prevention Rule following a contentious public hearing with over 500 participants in attendance (albeit virtually).  The Emergency Rule has been presented to California’s Office of Administrative Law (“OAL”) for approval and publication. OAL has ten days to approve the Rule; if approved, the Rule will become immediately effective, likely next Monday, November 30th.  The Rule brings with it a combination of requirements overlapping with and duplicative of already-existing state and county requirements applicable to employers, as well as a number of new and, in some cases, very burdensome, compliance obligations.

The Board’s emergency rulemaking was triggered last May with the submission of a Petition for an emergency rulemaking filed by worker advocacy group WorkSafe and National Lawyers’ Guild, Labor & Employment Committee.  The Petition requested Read More

Fed OSHA and State OSH Plans Address Ventilation to Reduce the Workplace Spread of COVID-19

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

While each week seems to bring news of new COVID-19 rules imposed by a state, county or city, federal OSHA continues to offer guidance of which employers should take notice.  Earlier this month, on November 5th, OSHA issued a new publication focused on ways employers can use ventilation to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 virus droplets through the air in their workplaces.

“Ensuring adequate ventilation throughout the work environment can help to maintain a safe and healthy workplace.”

The guidance provides a window into the types of questions OSHA may ask during future COVID-related inspections, and could be referenced as support for General Duty Clause violations.  Employees, as well as lawyers representing individuals bringing wrongful death actions on behalf of deceased employees, may also question why an employer opted not to evaluate ventilation systems and take some or all of the steps recommended by OSHA.

We had been bracing for guidance or regulatory requirements related to ventilation, with concerns that it would require capital projects to overhaul existing HVAC systems.  But fortunately, this guidance does not go that far, and in fact, most of the recommended steps are not particularly burdensome.  For example, OSHA suggests working with a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) specialist to ensure the employer’s HVAC systems are fully functional.  OSHA also recommends Read More

Coalition to Comment on Cal/OSHA’s Emergency COVID-19 Rulemaking

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On September 17, 2020, the Standards Board voted to grant a Petition filed by the worker advocacy group WorkSafe to promulgate a general industry emergency COVID-19 regulation.  This emergency temporary standard will almost certainly be followed by the development of a permanent infectious disease standard.  The intent of the rulemaking is to set specific, enforceable requirements and prohibitions for California employers, whose employees may be exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, but who are not covered by Cal/OSHA’s existing Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard (generally applicable to healthcare operations).

Serious Concerns About the Likely Proposed Emergency Regulation

Although Cal/OSHA has not yet published a proposed standard, the WorkSafe petition included a proposed rule that sets specific requirements for identifying and evaluating COVID-19 workplace hazards, responding to COVID-19 exposures, and conducting employee training, among numerous other requirements.  The scuttlebutt we are hearing suggests the Standards Board is likely to follow the WorkSafe’s proposed model for both this emergency rule and a follow-up permanent infectious disease standard.

Regardless of the approach the Standards Board follows, it will be imperative for the employer community to have its voice heard in the rulemaking process, with a set of robust comments and other advocacy.  But if the agency does try to run with a proposal like the one WorkSafe designed, we have already identified numerous potential concerns for employers, including: Read More

Important COVID-19 Update: “Close Contact” Redefined to Mean 15 Cumulative Minutes

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We want to alert you to a significant COVID-19 development out of the CDC yesterday.  Specifically, the CDC just announced a material revision to its definition of “Close Contact.”  The new definition makes it explicit that the 15-minute exposure period (i.e., within 6-feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes) should be assessed based on a cumulative amount of time over 24 hours, not just a single, continuous 15-minute interaction.

Here is the new definition included on the CDC’s website:

Close Contact – Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period* starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

* Individual exposures added together over a 24-hour period (e.g., three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes). Data are limited, making it difficult to precisely define “close contact;” however, 15 cumulative minutes of exposure at a distance of 6 feet or less can be used as an operational definition for contact investigation. Factors to consider when defining close contact include proximity (closer distance likely increases exposure risk), the duration of exposure (longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk), whether the infected individual has symptoms (the period around onset of symptoms is associated with the highest levels of viral shedding), if the infected person was likely to generate respiratory aerosols (e.g., was coughing, singing, shouting), and other environmental factors (crowding, adequacy of ventilation, whether exposure was indoors or outdoors). Because the general public has not received training on proper selection and use of respiratory PPE, such as an N95, the determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory PPE.  At this time, differential determination of close contact for those using fabric face coverings is not recommended.​

CDC’s revised view of what constitutes a Close Contact is based on an exposure study at a correctional facility.  Here is the CDC’s public notice about the correctional facility analysis.  The analysis apparently revealed that virus was spread to a 20-year-old prison employee who interacted with individuals who later tested positive for the virus, after 22 interactions that took place over 17 minutes during an eight-hour shift.  

An important consequence of this revision is the impact it will have on employers’ ability to maintain staffing because it establishes a much lower threshold trigger for required quarantine.  Recall that

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OSHA Publishes Employer Injury and Illness Data Collected Under the E-Recordkeeping Rule

By Eric J. ConnDan C. Deacon, and Beeta B. Lashkari

As the world continues to focus its attention on all things COVID-19 related – especially as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention learns more and more about the virus and updates its guidelines — earlier this month, OSHA quietly published a treasure trove of employer injury and illness data as part of its Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Rule (aka the “E-Recordkeeping Rule”).  The move comes after numerous attempts by OSHA under the Trump Administration to delay and narrow the requirements set forth in the original E-Recordkeeping Rule promulgated by OSHA in May 2016 during the final year of the Obama Administration, and also attempts by Trump’s OSHA to withhold from disclosure, even pursuant to FOIA requests, the injury and illness data collected pursuant to the Rule since 2016.

History of E-Recordkeeping Rule

The current version of the E-Recordkeeping Rule has undergone some changes and revisions, and indeed, as we previously posted here on the OSHA Defense Report, the Rule has had a long and tortured history.  Before promulgation of the E-Recordkeeping Rule, unless OSHA opened an enforcement inspection at an employer’s workplace or the Bureau of Labor Statistics requested an employer’s participation in its annual injury data survey, employer injury and illness recordkeeping data was maintained internally by employers.  In a major policy shift, on May 11, 2016, President Obama’s OSHA enacted the E-Recordkeeping Rule, requiring hundreds of thousands of workplaces to submit injury and illness data through OSHA’s Injury Tracking Application (“ITA”).  At that time, the Rule also included a provision in which employer injury and illness data would be made available to the public on a searchable online database without scrubbing employer names or location details.

More specifically, the 2016 E-Recordkeeping Rule required: Read More

CDC Guidance for Retail and Service Industries on Workplace Violence Associated with COVID-19 Policies

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

In recent months, we have heard too many stories and seen too many viral videos about retail clerks and restaurant employees facing violent attacks and threats from belligerent anti-mask customers who have been refused service or otherwise asked to adhere to the mask mandates issued by the Governors or Health Departments in their states.  This includes the tragic tale of the store security guard who was shot and killed in Michigan after telling a customer at a discount store to wear a state-mandated face mask.

Responding to the surge in workplace violence faced by retailers and others in the service industries, on September 1, 2020, the CDC issued guidance on Limiting Workplace Violence Associated with COVID-19 Prevention Policies in Retail and Services Businesses.  The new guidance covers how to manage the threat of violence from customers or others who are asked to comply with Governors’ or Health Department mandates or the businesses’ own infection control policies, such as requiring masks to be worn by customers, asking customers to follow social distancing rules, and setting limits on the number of customers allowed inside at one time.  Specifically, the guidance discourages retailers from Read More

Update on Cal/OSHA’s Wildfire Smoke Rule

By Andrew Sommer and Fred Walter

In May of this year, Conn Maciel Carey’s OSHA Practice submitted comments to the Cal/OSH Standards Board on behalf of the Wildfire Smoke Rule Industry Coalition about the agency’s effort to make permanent what had been Emergency Temporary Standard to protect workers from the respiratory hazards of California wildfires.

Last month, the Cal/OSH Standards Board issued a 15-day Notice of Proposed Modifications to what would become the permanent wildfire smoke rule. The proposed changes are not major, mostly clarifying that one of the methods for determining the Air Quality Index for particulate matter 2.5 is the Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program.

Another change to be expected in the final rule is a revision to the Appendix B training instructions to address cleaning and maintenance of reusable respirators, purportedly to address critical shortages of N95 respirators exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. While anything that extends the supply of N95 masks is welcome, that change alone is not nearly enough to solve a massive compliance problem created by the rule. With the Wildfire Smoke Rule, DOSH requires workers exposed to wildfire smoke be supplied with N95 respirators, and it does not consider surgical masks to be acceptable substitutes. DOSH concedes that N95 respirators are generally not available to any but medical workers right now, but they have no recommended substitutes.

That was one of the primary points of emphasis in our coalition’s comments — the rule needed to include some flexibility around the requirement for employers to supply N95 respirator masks for all potentially affected workers. There were already problems with N95 shortages even before the COVID-19 pandemic, but now, the shortage is extreme, and with the CDC’s and OSHA’s recommendations that all supplies of N95s should be reserved for the healthcare industry obviously makes compliance with a a rigid N95 requirement for wildfire smoke protection impossible for most employers. Now in the midst of another wildfire season in California, employers are continuing to experience N95 shortages. Read More

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