On June 10, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) announced an action OSHA has not taken in 38 years: issuing an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”). This ETS aims to protect “healthcare and healthcare support service workers from occupational exposure to COVID-19 in settings where people with COVID-19 are reasonably expected to be present.” The ETS does not go into effect until publication in the Federal Register, which has not yet occurred but appears imminent (OSHA has submitted the ETS to the Office of the Federal Register for publication and codification in 29 CFR 1910 Subpart U). The text of the ETS, as submitted to the Office of the Federal Register, is available here. OSHA also launched a website with resources regarding the ETS.
OSHA / Health & Safety
On December 16, 2020, a cold storage warehouse and ice manufacturing facility in East Providence, Rhode Island, entered into a guilty plea with the Justice Department for a “knowing” criminal violation of Clean Air Act section 112(r)(7), 42 USC 7412(r)(7), in connection with EPA’s Chemical Accident Prevention Program and requirement to submit a risk management plan (RMP) under 40 CFR Part 68. The facility used a refrigeration system to manufacture and store ice and other frozen products, with 19,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia in the refrigeration process.
Despite widespread commentary regarding the lack of COVID-specific regulatory rules in the workplace, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continues to cite employers for a wide variety of health and safety violations arising from COVID-related investigations. On November 6, 2020, OSHA issued guidance summarizing which safety standards the federal agency most frequently cites during COVID-related inspections: Respiratory Protection, Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and the General Duty Clause.
Chemical plant owners and operators need to carefully review a recent federal appellate court decision that could substantially expand process safety management (PSM) considerations and related chemical safety and accidental release regulatory requirements under EPA’s Risk Management Plan (RMP) program.
Employers beware, particularly those in healthcare sectors. If you provide a NIOSH-approved N95 “respirator” to protect employees from COVID-19, there are a number of OSHA respiratory protection standards that must be followed in a comprehensive Respiratory Protection Program. The Department of Labor OSHA’s July 21, 2020, national press release makes clear that OSHA will seek the maximum possible penalties for serious violations against companies that do not fully satisfy the respiratory protection standards.
Accidental chemical releases in the workplace and offsite into the environment continue to be a high-priority enforcement area for both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA, including releases of anhydrous ammonia and other toxic and flammable substances under the agencies’ RMP and PSM programs.
Effective October 1, 2019, Region VII OSHA (Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa) announced a combination of Regional Emphasis Programs, along with state-led local emphasis programs.
On October 1, 2019, OSHA implemented a new OSHA Weighting System to guide its prioritization and evaluation of workplace safety inspections for fiscal year 2020. Under OSHA’s outgoing enforcement weighting system, initiated in fiscal year 2015, OSHA heavily based its prioritization and evaluation of inspections on the time taken to complete an inspection.
Beginning October 16, 2018, employers with high injury and illness rates can expect more frequent OSHA inspections in connection with the resurrection of the agency’s Site-Specific Targeting (SST) Program. OSHA will use the SST Program to prioritize employer facilities and establishments for health and safety inspections in the coming year.
In January 2018, both EPA and OSHA increased civil penalties for new enforcement cases. These increases are required by the Federal Civil Penalty Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015 (Inflationary Adjustment Act), which directs federal agencies to annually adjust civil penalties for inflation by January 15 of each new calendar year in order to “maintain the deterrent effect of civil penalties by translating originally enacted statutory civil penalty amounts to today’s dollars.” 83 Fed. Reg. 1190, at 1191 (January 10, 2018).