COVID-19 has impacted business operations at an incredible rate as every day seems to bring new challenges and new guidance documents. For EHS professionals, there are not only environmental considerations related to compliance during the pandemic, but also extremely important health and safety impacts for workers. It can seem overwhelming, but leaders need to think about and act on preventive and response measures to ensure protection of employees and business continuity. In our Coffee & Compliance “Special Edition” webinar, Andrea Sumits, a Partner with Environmental General Counsel and an expert EHS attorney, provided an update on guidelines from OSHA, CalOSHA, and CDC relevant to workplace issues, as well as strategies and practical recommendations for workplace resilience in the age of COVID-19.
Some of the advice she highlighted was that while there are many guidance documents being promulgated by regulatory agencies, there are some commonalities between them.
Recommendations from All Agencies
- Create an infectious disease response plan
- Sick employees should stay home
- Train employees on respiratory etiquette (cover coughs/sneezes)
- Ensure good hand Hygiene
- Implement routine and enhanced cleaning & disinfection protocols
- Use EPA List N disinfectants or those with label claims
- Create physical distances between employees (telework, staggered shifts, closing common areas, limit access to worksite, restrict meetings/events, re-configuration of workplace)
- Train employees
- Communicate best practices and company measures
- Institute travel protocols
While not all agencies agreed on the following measures, many agencies highlighted some of the below considerations in their recommendations.
Recommendation from Many Agencies
- Avoid/discourage sharing of items (workspaces, tools, equipment)
- Provide supplies/facilities needed for hygiene – washing stations, 60% alcohol hand-rubs, tissues, wipes, no-contact closable disposal bins
- Create or identify isolation rooms for sick employees on-site
- Conduct exposure risk evaluations
- Stay abreast of emerging guidance from agencies and local public health authorities
- Make special accommodations to be made for vulnerable workers
- Encourage workers to report safety & health concerns
One of the key questions for risk managers is how will the policies and practices that the company implements mitigate enforcement actions by regulatory agencies. From Andrea’s perspective OSHA enforcement is focused on high risk environments and for low/medium risk they are likely to send letters asking for more information on your plan(s) or conduct phone calls. This highlights the need to keep great records around PPE availability, engineering controls attempted, risk assessment, IIPP, training, etc. In addition, compliance assurance with regulatory guidance, such as CDC facility guidelines, is key to building a justification for how your company responded.
As with any rapidly evolving situation, external supply chain and economic conditions, and many unknowns on how to best attack COVID-19 transmission, prevention, and treatment there are legal gray areas and practical and operational challenges. A few that Andrea identified include:
- How do you keep up with local updates and adjust risk assessments? (e.g. Do you check local health departments daily in every city you have a facility or every week?)
- What are the criteria to be used in a risk assessment?
- How does mandatory testing work? Who pays for it?
- How do you respond to PPE requests? What about limited supplies?
In order to keep your company up to date on the latest procedures, your response plan should be updated and reviewed regularly. In addition, it should be available across the company and the latest version should be instantly available. For companies that have implemented cloud-based software systems this can be done easily and quickly. For those still undergoing a digital transformation, emails and other communication methods will be needed to disseminate updated protocols and for some still operating with three-ring binders, it may mean printing out the latest version at each location. As Andrea noted, a Injury and Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP) could be updated for all company locations with site-specific modifications left up to local operations managers or facility managers to address local risk factors. The balance between company standards with local conditions and meeting evolving guidance and conditions is making for a trying time for EHS leaders, but one that can be managed with the right framework (see below) and response measures.
- Make a plan that is flexible and can be iterative
- Workplace risk assessment (may be site specific)
- Prevention policies/best practices (agency & industry)
- Case management policies (symptom screening, testing, and return to work)
- Training (topics and schedule)
- Recordkeeping (requirements and location)
For additional information, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), California OSHA (Cal/OSHA) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) have been producing a number of guidance documents. Below are a few that were highlighted in the webinar as key ones to focus on plus a few others we at Mapistry have found useful.
- California Workplace Guide to Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) – Cal/OSHA
- Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) Factsheet – Cal/OSHA
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers – CDC
- General Business Frequently Asked Questions – CDC
- Cal/OSHA Interim Guidelines for General Industry on 2019 Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Cal/OSHA
- Cal/OSHA Guidance on Requirements to Protect Workers from Coronavirus – Cal/OSHA
- Enforcement Guidance for Recording Cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – OSHA
- Risk Assessments for the Workforce During COVID-19 – CDC
- Coronavirus: Comprehensive Employer’s Response Guide (from Gusto)