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Industry Insight: Planning for the New Normal

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Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration  (OSHA) adopted revised policies for enforcing their requirements due to the changing scenery caused by COVID-19, all in an attempt to decrease the risk of transmission. Now, under new record-keeping requirements, coronavirus is considered a recordable illness.

Many workers return to an environment that is far from normal. At the NOLN office, for example, hand sanitizer can be seen in virtually every room, coworkers are sitting six feet apart or more from their normal desk buddies, and arrows line the walkways to avoid running into oncoming people traffic. At shops, the processes changed almost overnight in order to remain open and safe for customers.

According to Colette Bruce, owner of Team Safety LLC, however, many workers are coming back to work to find no precautions in place whatsoever, which has resulted in many complaints piling up on OSHA’s file cabinets.

To avoid future OSHA citations, Bruce lays out the groundwork on the new guidelines operators need to follow.

Defining a Recordable Illness

Employers with 10 or fewer employees and certain employers in low hazard industries have no recording obligations; they need only report work-related coronavirus illnesses that result in a fatality or an employee's in-patient hospitalization. But for employers with more than 10 employees, they are required to report any illness or injury, typically beyond first aid, that occurs within the workplace and log it in OSHA’s 300 Log throughout the year. 

Now, under OSHA's record-keeping requirements, coronavirus is considered a recordable illness, as they have determined COVID-19 can be transmitted in the workplace. This means these employers are now responsible for recording cases of COVID-19.

However, there’s a fine line between what is considered recordable and what is not. According to Bruce, the employer is only required to report it to OSHA if they are certain it came from the shop. In other words, the employer would have to determine through tracing that the shop is actually where a customer or employee contracted the virus. 

Bruce gives the example of Tyson’s factory workers; about 500 employees at Tyson tested positive for COVID-19, a pretty good indicator that the outbreak occurred in the workplace. But if an employee calls in and says they’ve tested positive and the employer isn’t able to trace it to the shop, it’s not distinct proof that the outbreak came from the shop. Essentially, it’s under the employer’s discretion as to if the outbreak actually occurred in their shop or not, and if an employer does record an illness that occurred outside of the workplace does not mean the employer has violated any OSHA standard. 

“Just like they’d have to have a reason why it started there, they’d have to have a reason why it wasn’t,” Bruce says.

Reporting an Illness or Injury

According to OSHA guidelines, an employer is required to record injuries and illnesses if:

  • Is confirmed as a coronavirus illness;
  • Is work-related as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5; and
  • Involves one or more of the general recording criteria in 29 CFR 1904.7, such as medical treatment beyond first aid or days away from work.

How should businesses prepare for these new changes?

To protect your employees and customers from contracting COVID-19, OSHA is requiring shops to develop an Infectious Disease Prevention program, incorporating protective equipment and new workplace procedures to prevent the spread; keeping six feet apart, requiring masks and gloves be worn, providing specific equipment for each employee, even providing a procedure on entering a customer’s vehicle.

Bruce says there are a lot of requirements employers can implement that would meet OSHA requirements, but having a general plan makes an employer think about the workplace and the best way to avoid transmission. In fact, Bruce is working with all of the Take 5 locations to come up with new policies and procedures during the pandemic and creating a formalized document for anyone to access.

“Every employer, besides quick lubes, needs to have a plan in place,” Bruce says.

As of right now, there’s no legislation stating businesses are not responsible for the transmission of COVID-19, so having a detailed plan in place and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) can help avoid any liability.

For example, going to a quick lube without leaving the vehicle is far safer than an employee getting in the vehicle and the customer getting out of the car. All of those touchpoints increase the potential for transmission, and there would be no way to trace a customer testing positive to the shop when they never left their vehicle.

All in all, having new policies, procedures, and a plan in place ensures all employers are taking all of the necessary steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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