EMPLOYMENT LAW NEWS

Common COVID-19 Violations

By Kris Janisch
Published Jan. 13, 2021

Common COVID-19 Violations

The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced nearly $4 million in fines for COVID-19 violations. Here are the most common types of violations.

As the pandemic continues to rage across the U.S., federal officials are keeping close tabs on COVID-19 violations.

Nearly $4 million worth of citations were issued to employers from the start of the pandemic through the end of 2020, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The violations run the gamut from not reporting illnesses to failing to implement a written respiratory protection plan. Officials inspected 300 companies, resulting in “proposed penalties” reaching $3,930,381.

Meanwhile, OSHA has also posted a list of the most commonly violated COVID-19 standards.

Common COVID-19 Violations

The six-page document from OSHA outlines the most common violations of federal standards related to the coronavirus, along with available resources and information to help employers with compliance.

Medical evaluation violations top the list. OSHA provides two examples:

  • The employer did not provide a medical evaluation before the worker was fit-tested for a respirator or used it
  • The medical evaluation was missing information required in mandatory Appendix C (OSHA Respirator Medical Evaluation Questionnaire) of the standard

Up next is “fit testing,” which essentially means a respirator may not have been worn correctly. Here, OSHA’s examples involve not performing a fit test or incorrectly applying the standards of fit testing.

Another commonly violated COVID-19 standard is failing to establish a respiratory protection program. This type of violation is wide ranging and includes:

  • The employer did not establish, implement or update a written respiratory protection program with worksite-specific procedures
  • The employer did not include specific provisions in their respiratory protection program, including procedures for medical evaluations, fit-testing and regularly evaluating the effectiveness of the program
  • The employer determined that voluntary respirator use was permissible but did not provide the respirator users with the mandatory information from Appendix D (Information for Employees Using Respirators When Not Required Under Standard)
  • The employer did not designate a qualified program administrator to administer or oversee the respiratory protection program and conduct the required evaluations of program effectiveness

Training and Education Violations

The next section of common COVID-19 violations is about training and education.

OSHA provides a laundry list of non-compliance issues that were unveiled during inspections:

  • The employer did not provide effective training described in Appendix D
  • The employer did not ensure workers could demonstrate knowledge of why a respirator is necessary, how to use it and its limitations, as well as use in emergency situations
  • How to inspect, put on and remove, use and check the respirator seal
  • Procedures for maintenance and storage
  • How to recognize medical signs and symptoms that may limit or prevent respirator use
  • The employer did not retrain employees about changes in the workplace or the type of respirator when previous training was obsolete
  • The employer allowed voluntary use of respirators but did not provide the required information on voluntary use of respirators in mandatory Appendix D

Next are two smaller sections with violations regarding employers not purchasing the correct type of respirator or having the wrong respirator for the working conditions. Simply not providing respirators is also listed.

Medical and Maintenance

The next batch of COVID-19 violations involves medical evaluations of employees and maintenance and care of respirators.

When it comes to medical evaluations, the issue was mostly about recordkeeping. An employer did not create adequate fit test records of the worker or type of respirator, or having missing dates, for example.

Maintenance, meanwhile, is exactly what it sounds like. An employer did not store them correctly or protect the respirators from contamination.

Illness Reporting, PPE, General Duty Clause

Next on the list of violations is failure to report deaths of employees to OSHA and not keeping records of illnesses.

Meanwhile, issues with personal protective equipment (PPE) include employers not:

  • Assessing the workplace to determine if PPE would be required
  • Selecting, and requiring the use of, appropriate PPE
  • Selecting PPE that properly fits each affected employee
  • Documenting the required hazard assessment

Lastly, violations of the general duty clause are also listed by OSHA. Some employers did not provide a workplace free from recognized hazards.

“Under the general duty clause, employers must protect employees from COVID-19 hazards at the workplace by, for example, installing plastic barriers or ensuring social distancing,” according to OSHA.

Conclusion

Maintaining compliance with COVID-19 standards is not only good for the workplace, but failure to do so can result in citations.

The DOL lists the companies that were fined. Bad press and a hefty fine can be avoided by following guidelines from federal, state and local officials.

For employers who want information on how to avoid the violations listed above, OSHA’s page on the matter includes links to resources.

This Employment Law News blog is intended for market awareness only, it is not to be used for legal advice or counsel.

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