OSHA still vigilant over workplace COVID-19 safety

Stacy Wescoe//October 18, 2022

OSHA still vigilant over workplace COVID-19 safety

Stacy Wescoe//October 18, 2022

The height of the concern over the COVID-19 virus may have passed, but that doesn’t mean employers shouldn’t still be concerned about their obligation to maintain a healthy environment at work. 

Mandates imposed by the Biden administration were later overturned by the court, so now COVID-19 prevention practices are considered recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control versus regulations. 

But COVID-19 and other virus protections in the workplace are still covered under the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s Genral Duty Clause, and Tom Barnowski, director of corporate and public safety education at Northampton Community College said that should keep employers alert to the situation. 

“Employers can still be cited if an obvious risk is present and they do nothing to prevent it,” said Barnowski. 

That means that employers still need to be wary of basic virus precautions to make sure there aren’t outbreaks of COVID-19 or other contagious viruses at a worksite that could have been prevented with proper precautions. 

He noted that OSHA fines under the General Duty Clause can be up to $14,500 for a single serious violation to more than $145,000 for repeated willful violations. 

But, Barnowski said, it’s not just about the money. 

“OSHA doesn’t want your money. OSHA wants your attention,” he said. 

Like a speeding ticket, those fines are a warning to those who might violate safety rules that there are consequences. 

While there are still specific OSHA regulations with regard to personal protective equipment, reporting and record keeping, the best thing a company’s human resources department can do is stay on top of the latest COVID-19 information from the CDC. 

“Every employer should stay on top of CDC guidelines because it changes all the time,’ he said. “Companies should offer the latest most relevant information. Be aware of COVID-19 because it is still with us and there are always new pharmaceuticals coming onto market to be aware of.” 

He said that while COVID-19 isn’t in the news as much as it was at its peak, OSHA is still taking the virus seriously and has pledged to increase its COVID inspection goal to 10% as the agency works to finalize a permanent coronavirus healthcare standard. 

According to OSHA, they have issued 1,200 coronavirus-related citations to employers and to date assessed current penalties totaling $7.2 million dollars.