As early as today or next week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is expected to release a new COVID standard for the workplace. That’s according to Mark Lies II, a labor and employment attorney and partner with the Seyfarth Shaw LLP law firm.
He spoke during a webinar from NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association and Seyfarth Shaw on Thursday titled: “What to Expect from OSHA in 2021 and Beyond.” OSHA has previously issued guidance for masks, social distancing and sanitation during the pandemic, according to Lies. Some states — including California, Oregon, Michigan, Washington and Virginia — already have COVID workplace guidance in place, he notes. However, a national, temporary standard would be new. He advised companies to review OSHA’s website to review the new standard when it comes out.
OSHA has received complaints during the pandemic about employees not wearing masks or their workplace having no COVID protocols at all, said Lies. In some cases, these employees refuse to work and they may be covered under a whistleblower law. “If they refuse to work, don’t fire them,” said Lies, because that would get employers into trouble. He advised telling such employees to return to work when they feel safe.
Expect an increased need for record-keeping under the new administration, he said. That will likely include the need to electronically file records with OSHA. That, in turn, could trigger more inspections.
In the most egregious cases, OSHA “can cite you [an employer] for each employee who is not wearing fall protection on a tower, or for each tower that does not have safety devices on it,” Lies said.
Employers now need to have workplace violence protocols in place, including a mass shooting policy. “Workplace violence is fueled in part, by drugs and alcohol, when people can no longer control their emotions,” Lies said. OSHA will ask employees if they feel safe or threatened in the workplace. “They will ask employers, have you told them what workplace violence is? With mass shootings, now, we’re seeing copycats. You need to have a policy,” said Lies. Employers should include instructions for what to do in active shooter situations too.
For work sites where there’s a mix of contractors and your own employees, he advised to have a written agreement of who is responsible for certain situations. “If contractors are not doing the work correctly, get their supervisor to tell them, “so you’re not liable. Stop the work. Get them off the tower or Bobcat,” he advised.
“If they appear to be impaired, get them off the tower. Get a tox screen,” said Lies. He also advised employers to ensure that the employee actually goes to a lab or hospital to get the test after an accident. In such cases, the employee may try to skip the test for fear of losing their job. That’s not their decision, he explained.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
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