[Webinar] Everything You Need to Know About Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard

On Monday, August 3rd at 1 PM ET, join Eric J. Conn (Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice), Susan Wilcox (a CIH and CSP with Safety Resource Associates), and special guest Jennifer Rose (VOSH Cooperative Programs Director with the Virginia Dept. of Labor and Industry) for a complimentary webinar regarding “Everything You Need to Know About Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard.

Last week, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory safety regulation designed to reduce COVID-19 infectionsVOSH Cover Slide in the workplace, when Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam announced the commonwealth’s adoption of an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”). The COVID-19 ETS, which was drafted by Virginia’s Department of Labor and Industry, requires Virginia employers to: Continue reading

Virginia Promulgates the Nation’s First Mandatory COVID-19 Workplace Safety Regulation

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On Wednesday, July 15, 2020, Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northan announced the commonwealth’s adoption of an emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) on infectious disease prevention.  With that, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory safety regulation designed to prevent and/or reduce COVID-19 infections in the workplace.  VA EOThe Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted to approve the ETS after Governor Northam directed the creation of enforceable regulations in a May Executive Order (the same EO that mandated the use of masks in public for all Virginians).  Specifically, Governor Northan directed:

“The Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry shall promulgate emergency regulations and standards to control, prevent, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The regulations and standards … shall apply to every employer, employee, and place of employment within the jurisdiction of the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) program.”

Virginia state officials said they were forced to act because federal OSHA had not developed an employer safety standard to protect against infections from the Coronavirus, and thus the burden to do so has been left to the states.

The ETS, which was drafted by Virginia’s Department of Labor and Industry, will go into effect after it is published in a newspaper in Richmond, VA, which is expected to occur the week of July 27th.  The rule will remain in effect as an ETS for at least six months, but can be made permanent through the Virginia OSHA (VOS) formal rulemaking process defined by state law.  Although the Final Rule has not been published, the rulemaking process has been somewhat public, with early drafts of the rule discussed and debated in public meetings.

Generally, the ETS requires Virginia employers to: Continue reading

EPA’s New WOTUS Definition Applies as Navigable Waters Protection Rule In Effect

By: Nicholas W. Scala and Beeta Lashkari

On Monday, June 22, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“the Army Corps”) revised “Navigable Waters Protection Rule” (“NWPR”) took effect in most parts of the country, commonly referred to as the WOTUS rule.  The rule repeals and replaces an Obama Administration regulation further defining what constitute jurisdictional “waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) and codifies a new and more narrow definition of the regulated areas.

The WOTUS rule has had a long and tortured history, starting with the EPA’s significant expansion of the definition of WOTUS under the Obama Administration in June 2015.  See our previous blog post for more details on the history of the WOTUS rule.  Under that version of the rule, nearly all bodies of water could be construed to constitute a WOTUS for jurisdictional purposes under the Clean Water Act, even if a temporary puddle following a heavy rain. This significantly impacted the ability of mining companies to obtain and maintain compliance with environmental permits. WOTUS The current NWPR pulls back on those expansions, offering a more streamlined approach to determining whether a body of water is a WOTUS.  After years of litigation and lobbying by numerous industry groups and organizations, the revised NWRP is much less burdensome to the mining industry and is a major win in challenging regulators’ sometime unfettered authority.

Specifically, the NWPR redefines WOTUS to categorically regulate four main types of waters:

(1) the territorial seas, and waters which are currently used, or were used in the past, or may be susceptible to use in interstate or foreign commerce, including waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide (collectively, referred to as “traditional navigable waters”);

(2) tributaries;

(3) lakes, ponds, and impoundments of other jurisdictional waters; and

(4) wetlands adjacent to other waters of the United States.

The new NWPR also expressly excludes twelve types of waters from regulation.  Importantly, among those exclusions is ephemeral waters, which are defined as water features that only flow in response to precipitation events such as rain and snowmelt.  The NWPR eliminates these features from regulation.

This exclusion is particularly significant given the nature of the mining and how active quarries or pits handle the accumulation of water, such as when parts of quarries will inevitably fill with water and/or flood during/after rain and snow. It is important to note, however, Continue reading

With Pressure Mounting on MSHA for COVID-19 Standard, Agency Issues Guidance with CDC

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

MSHA is facing political and now legal pressure to take additional action in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the most part, and most certainly when compared to its sister agency OSHA, MSHA has taken an wait and see approach to responding to COVID-19 in the workplace, offering limited guidance and resources to the mining community.

While there were some developments in late March and early April, granting mine operators a bit of relief on training requirements during social distancing, while the President’s national emergency declaration remains in effect, MSHA has otherwise encouraged mine operators to implement their own best practices to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace and adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. COVID-19 miner protection act snip

In May, a group of senators, led by Senator Manchin of West Virginia, introduced a bill that if passed would force MSHA’s hand to enact a emergency temporary standard with respect to COVID-19. No further action has taken place since the bill was introduced on May 13, 2020, but if passed, the COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act would require MSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard within seven days with respect to COVID-19 and require MSHA to prepare a “permanent and comprehensive infectious disease standard within two years.” In addition, the bill would require:

    • Mine operators to provide personal protective equipment to miners;
    • MSHA to forbid employers from retaliating against miners for reporting infection control problems to their employer, or to local, State, or Federal government agencies; and
    • MSHA, in coordination with CDC and NIOSH, to track, analyze, and investigate mine-related COVID-19 infections data to make recommendations and guidance to protect miners from the virus.

Continue reading

OSHA Issues COVID-19 FAQs about Respirators, Face Masks, and Face Coverings

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As COVID Spring transitions to COVID Summer, wearing some form of face covering has become the new norm, especially in workplaces all across the country.  Many employers operating essential businesses, as well as non-essential business that have begun to reopen, have sought to provide or require some form of respirator, face mask, or face covering for employees.  Given OSHA’s particular emphasis on respiratory protection throughout the pandemic and for the foreseeable future, it is important for employers to be aware of the OSHA guidelines and obligations regarding respirators and face coverings in the workplace.

Depending on the type of face mask used, and whether it is mandated by the employer or merely permitted for voluntary use, there are certain requirements that employers must follow under OSHA’s respiratory protection standard, 29 C.F.R. 1910.134, and perhaps  other regulations.  Last week, OSHA issued a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about face coverings to help employers navigate obligations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.Face Covering FAQs

As a starting point, let’s level-set the type of equipment we are talking about.  N95 masks, although they are called masks and look like masks, are actually considered by OSHA to be respirators.  Of course, anything more substantial than an N95 mask, such as half- or full-face tight-fitting face pieces with a filtering medium, are also considered by OSHA to be respirators.  That use of that type of equipment in the workplace, whether it is required by the employer or permitted for voluntary use, triggers numerous duties under OSHA’s respiratory protection standard that we will discuss below.  On the other hand, simple paper or cloth masks, like dental or surgical masks, are not considered to be respirators, and do not trigger any requirements under 1910.134.

Let’s start this discussion with the more ubiquitous face coverings that are NOT considered to be respirators, and also are not considered to be personal protective equipment (PPE).

Paper or Cloth Face Masks

Setting aside respirators for the moment, if your workplace is permitting or even requiring use of some form of a loose-fitting paper or cloth mask, or even a generic face covering like a bandana or one of the DIY masks that CDC has been promoting for general use by the public, none of those are considered to be a respirator, AND none of those area even considered to be PPE.

As a general rule, Continue reading

MSHA Part 50 and Training Recordkeeping Requirements – [Webinar Recording]

On May 26,  2020, Nick Scala of Conn Maciel Carey’s national MSHA Practice, presented the third webinar event in the 2020 MSHA Webinar Series which covered MSHA Part 50 and Training Recordkeeping Requirements.

Part 50 Webinar Snip

MSHA’s Injury and Illness Recordkeeping regulations are contained in 30 C.F.R. §50, more commonly referred to as Part 50, includes MSHA’s standards such as what constitutes an immediately reportable incident, a reportable injury or illness, and what investigation records must be maintained in the event of an accident, just to name a few. While, separately, MSHA requires the maintenance of all applicable training records, such as new miner, annual refresher, site specific, and task training in 30 C.F.R. §§46 & 48, record audits by MSHA frequently cover both areas. During this webinar, participants learned some of the most basic and yet cited recordkeeping requirements under Parts 46, 48, and 50 and how to prevent issuance at your operation.

During this webinar, participants learned about: Continue reading

Conn Maciel Carey’s Multi-Disciplinary COVID-19 Task Force Resources

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As employers around the country grapple with the employment law and workplace safety implications of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (“COVID-19”), COVID-19 Task Force PageConn Maciel Carey formed a national, multi-disciplinary legal and regulatory task force dedicated to helping our clients across all industries manage the multitude of pandemic-related issues employers are facing and preparing them for the tidal wave of litigation that is waiting around the corner.

As part of our COVID-19 Task Force, the firm’s dedicated Workplace Safety, Labor and Employment, and Litigation attorneys have produced a comprehensive set of resources to guide employers through this uncharted territory and the unique workplace challenges presented by the presence of a new health hazard in our nation’s workplaces.

We have now pulled those resources together in a single location — Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force Page, where employers can find:

Our COVID-19 Task Force has spent the last few months working with our clients to: Continue reading

OSHA Issues COVID-19 Guidance for the Construction Industry

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Federal OSHA just issued new COVID-19 guidance focused on the construction industry.  It does not tread a lot of new ground, but here is a summary of it.

Most construction projects and tasks will be in the Lower or Medium risk exposure category in OSHA’s COVID-19 risk matrix (those categories require much less in the way of engineering and administrative controls than healthcare and manufacturing facilities. Social distancing and physical barriers continue to be the principal method to control infection recommended by OSHA. With respect to separating employees at construction sites, OSHA recommends:Construction Guidance

  • Using closed doors and walls, whenever feasible, as physical barriers to separate workers from any individuals experiencing signs and/or symptoms consistent with COVID-19; and/or
  • Erecting plastic sheeting barriers when workers need to occupy specific areas of an indoor work site where they are in close contact (less than 6 feet) with someone suspected of having or known to have COVID-19.

OSHA also recommends gathering certain information (and provides sample questions) about projects before sending workers to perform construction activities in an indoor environment that may be occupied by a homeowner, customer, worker, or another occupant.

The new guidance includes a large section on “Face Coverings in Construction,” consistent with OSHA’s general movement towards a consistent expectation that employers will provide and require face coverings in workplaces whenever and wherever social distancing cannot be assured.  The Face Covering section in this construction guidance explains that: Continue reading

COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan: What Is It and Why Does Every Employer Need One?

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As states across the country begin to loosen or lift stay-at-home and shutdown orders, many workplaces that had been idled, have just begun to or will soon resume operations.  Many states and localities are setting as a precondition for reopening, a requirement that they develop and implement a written, site-specific COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan.

Regardless of any state or local requirement to develop such a plan, any business that operates without an Exposure Control Plan will be potentially exposed to a number of legal or business risks, such as an OSHA citation, being shutdown by a state or local health department, and/or becoming a target for a wrongful death action brought by families of employees, temporary workers, customers, vendors and/or guests. They should also plan to deal with a workforce that is scared and anxious about the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which may result in employees refusing to work (which would disrupt and complicate scheduling) and/or making regular and frequent complaints to OSHA about the purported unchecked hazard in your workplace.  Responding to these complaints will take time and cost money, distracting your business from its mission.  Retaliation claims under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act is another foreseeable consequence of a scared workforce.  Without an Exposure Control Plan in place, the legal vulnerabilities will be real and are potentially significant.

We focus below on five key reasons employers must develop a written COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan.  But first, what is an exposure control plan?

What is an Exposure Control and Response Plan?

When OSHA identifies a serious safety or health hazard, it usually requires employers to develop a written program including the measures employers will take to counteract the hazard.  For example, OSHA requires written lockout/tagout programs to protect against hazardous energy; respiratory protection programs and process safety management programs to protect against hazardous chemical exposures; and emergency action plans to protect against the risk of fires in the workpalce.  Simply put, a COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan is a written safety plan outlining how your workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19, covering issues such as:

  • How you will facilitate social distancing in your workplace;
  • What engineering or administrative controls you will implement when workers cannot remain at least 6′ apart;
  • The steps that you will take to ensure employees comply with personal hygiene practices;
  • What types of protective equipment you will provide for various tasks and operations;
  • What enhanced housekeeping protocols will be implemented for frequently touched surfaces, tools, and machines;
  • What you are doing to prevent/screen sick workers from entering the workplace;
  • How you will respond to confirmed or suspected cases among your workforce; and
  • How you will communicate with and train your workforce on these mitigation measures.

Five Reasons to Develop a Written COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan

First, whether you have remained open because you are an essential business or plan to reopen soon, you may soon find yourself required to adopt such a plan by virtue of an executive order issued by the governor of a state in which you operate, or in some cases, pursuant to orders issued by city or county officials. Continue reading

BREAKING: OSHA Issues Enforcement Policy Relaxing Regulatory Compliance During the COVID-19 Crisis

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

The Coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for employers that are attempting to meet OSHA regulatory obligations – such as annual training, auditing, testing, medical surveillance requirements, and the like – without creating greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 for their employees.  This evening (April 16, 2020), OSHA issued a new Enforcement Memorandum acknowledging that reality.  The enforcement memo, entitled “Discretion in Enforcement when Considering an Employer’s Good Faith Efforts During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic,” provides enforcement relief for employers who exercise good faith in the context of this extraordinary health crisis.

In explaining the need for this enforcement relief, OSHA recognized that:

“Widespread business closures, restrictions on travel, limitations on group sizes, facility visitor prohibitions, and stay-at-home or shelter-in-place requirements” have strained the “availability of employees, consultants, or contractors who normally provide training, auditing, equipment inspections, testing, and other essential safety and industrial hygiene services,” as well as the opportunity for “employee participation in training even when trainers are available.”  Similarly, “access to medical testing facilities may be limited or suspended.”

To address these very real challenges to achieving full compliance with various annual and other regulatory requirements, OSHA issued a temporary enforcement policy based on the agency’s enforcement discretion to relax enforcement of many existing regulatory obligations if complying with these obligations is not feasible or if doing so would pose an unreasonable risk of virus transmission among the employer’s workforce.  Today’s enforcement policy applies broadly to employers in all industry sectors, takes effect immediately, and will remain in effect indefinitely throughout the current public health crisis.

The heart of the new enforcement policy is this: Continue reading