What are you doing to ensure your clients don’t run afoul of OSHA? If you haven’t instilled reminders in the past and made sure proper protocols were being followed, now’s the time.
Top 5 OSHA Requirements Employers Should Remember
How agents and brokers can help protect clients and their employees
By Michael Wayne
Welcome to 2021.
As vaccines continue to be administered across the nation to combat the effects of COVID-19, many employers are still dealing with its impacts from last year; many will continue to do so for years to come. From the onset of the pandemic through the end of November 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it had issued nearly $3.5 million in penalties as the result of 255 violation-yielding workplace inspections. While the infractions that were identified ran the gamut, seeing healthcare facilities and senior-care living facilities make the list as much as they did is particularly alarming.
If your clients have been lucky enough to escape OSHA’s watchful eye previously, now is the time to act to make sure that a heavy-handed judgement isn’t delivered.
Toward the middle of December 2019, the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) announced research findings that show the medical costs for COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims are averaging roughly $38,000. In an attempt to help employers tamp down the number of citations, OSHA has taken the step of noting for the public the standards that inspectors are most frequently citing during virus-related inspections. Surprisingly, at the top of the list is the General Duty Clause. Surprisingly because that simply isn’t at all normal—far from it. In fact, in fiscal year 2018, OSHA reported that a measly 1.5% (900) of the nearly 62,000 violations recorded fell under the purview of the General Duty Clause. The reason why the number has been so low previously is because it’s not easily enforceable.
To slap an employer with the General Duty Clause, OSHA has to prove four conditions:
- The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which its employees were exposed.
- The hazard was recognized.
- The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
- A feasible and useful method to correct the hazard was available.
That so many violations met the threshold in 2020, given the circumstances, is really shocking. Other frequently cited issues included citations centered around respiratory protection, personal protective equipment, and injury and illness recordkeeping and reporting.
Along with providing the public the list of standards being violated, OSHA went so far as to separately provide requirements that employers should remember. The Top 5 are as follows:
- Provide a medical evaluation before a worker is fit tested or uses a respirator.
- Establish, implement, and update a written respiratory protection program with required worksite-specific procedures.
- Educate workers on how to safely use respirators and/or other PPE, and inform them of changes in the workplace that could make previous training obsolete.
- Store respirators and other PPE properly, in a way that protects them from damage, contamination, and, where applicable, deformation of the facepiece and exhalation valve.
- Keep records of work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses.
These are five of nine total requirements that OSHA laid out for employers. All of them can be found in a neat and tidy pdf at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/covid-citations-lessons.pdf. The page also encourages employers to educate themselves about OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program. This program offers no-cost and confidential occupational safety and health services to small and medium-sized businesses.
Undoubtedly, the simple question that begs to be asked here is, what are you doing to ensure your clients don’t run afoul of OSHA? If you haven’t instilled reminders like this in the past and made certain that proper protocols were being followed, now is the time to do so. If your clients have been lucky enough to escape OSHA’s watchful eye previously, now is the time to act to make sure that a heavy-handed judgement isn’t delivered.
Don’t worry. I promised myself that this was not going to be a “New Year’s Resolutions” piece, and I’m not letting it devolve into that now. What this is, however, is a gentle reminder that if your clients get burned and perceive that it is because of your lack of inaction and carelessness, you may not have to worry about disappointing them for much longer. If 2020 was the year of adaptation (amongst other things), 2021 is going to be another in a long line of years to innovate and provide service in ways that our industry has been slow to adopt.
It may teeter on “resolution” status, but resolving now to enhance what you have been doing for your clients and ensuring that they know they are receiving the best service possible may be the most impactful decision that you make for this year and beyond.
Michael Wayne is a freelance writer who focuses on insurance and risk management.