Optimized HVAC systems can help reduce exposure to COVID-19. The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) just published “COVID-19 Guidance on Ventilation in the Workplace” – a one-page tip sheet on ventilation improvements that can be made to help provide a workplace free of safety and health hazards.
Coronavirus is a serious workplace health hazard. Adequate ventilation throughout the work environment can help to maintain a safe and healthy workplace.
Items that can be addressed to update HVAC systems include:
Building owners and managers can work with an HVAC professional to optimize building ventilation.
Document inspections performed, the findings of those inspections and the changes made.
Replace air filters regularly, and look into ways to improve air filtration, including use of HEPA filters.
Ensure exhaust fans in restrooms are set up properly, are fully functional, and are set to remain in constant operation.
Change settings that shut systems down or reduce their use during off hours, so that air is continually circulated within the building.
Set up the HVAC systems to bring in as much outside air as possible, avoiding recirculation of indoor air.
The tip sheet provides detailed instructions for these and other steps that can be taken to optimize HVAC systems in workplaces.
Free safety and health assistance for employers is available from L&I’s Consultation Program: DOSHConsultation@Lni.wa.gov or www.Lni.wa.gov/DOSHConsultation.
Safe + Sound Week, August 10-16, 2020, brings focus to a year-round OSHA campaign to encourage every workplace to improve upon their safety and health program. Employers and workers can recognize their safety successes and set the stage for new ones during Safe + Sound Week.
DLI and OSHA Help Employers Form Safety Programs
Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries has tools and resources available for businesses that want to improve safety, from the management level to the work floor.
Management leadership means there is a commitment from the top to implementing a program and using it to drive continuous improvement in safety and health.
When management leadership is sincere and is supported by actions, workers know that safety and health are important to business success. This means that the steps they take to improve safety and health will be valued by the business.
Top management can demonstrate its commitment to safety in many different ways, including:
Developing and communicating a safety and health policy statement.
Providing the resources needed to implement and operate the program.
Factoring safety and health into operational planning and decisions.
Recognizing or rewarding safety and health contributions and achievements.
Leading by example, by practicing safe behaviors and making safety part of daily conversations.
Workers often know the most about potential hazards associated with their jobs. When they are involved in finding solutions, they are invested in the program. To maximize participation, workers must feel free of any fear of retaliation or discrimination (e.g., for reporting an injury or hazardous conditions). Trust is key in promoting a safe workplace.
Workers can participate in many ways, including:
Developing the initial program design.
Reporting incidents (including near misses) so they can be investigated.
Analyzing hazards associated with routine and nonroutine jobs, tasks, and processes.
Defining and documenting safe work practices.
Conducting site inspections and incident investigations.
Training current coworkers and new hires.
Evaluating program performance and identifying ways to improve it.
COVID-19 Safety is Part of the Puzzle
Safe + Sound Week also gives us the chance to highlight workplace safety and employer responsibilities in the time of COVID-19. In Washington State, our phases of reopening are evolving as conditions change. However, one constant is an employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace.
The full details of the Safe Start Washington – Phased Reopening County-by-County plan is available here. The following is an outline of the requirements for employers under this plan. For all of the fine-point details, refer to the Safe Start document. In all phases – Employers are required to:
Provide (at no cost to employees) cloth facial coverings to employees, unless their exposure dictates a higher level of protection under the Department of Labor & Industries’ safety and health rules and guidance. Since June 8, all employees have been required to wear a cloth facial covering, consistent with the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries’ COVID-19 workplace safety and health rules and guidance.
Cooperate with public health authorities in the investigation of cases, suspected cases, outbreaks, and suspected outbreaks of COVID-19; cooperate with the implementation of infection control measures, including but not limited to isolation and quarantine and environmental cleaning; and comply with all public health authority orders and directives.
Notify the local health jurisdiction within 24 hours if it is suspected that COVID-19 is spreading in the workplace, or if you 2 or more employees develop confirmed or suspected COVID-19 within a 14-day period.
Keep a safe and healthy facility in accordance with state and federal law, and comply with COVID-19 worksite-specific safety practices.
Educate workers in the language they understand best about coronavirus and how to prevent transmission, and the employer’s COVID-19 policies.
Maintain minimum six-foot separation between all employees (and customers) in all interactions at all times. When strict physical distancing is not feasible for a specific task, other prevention measures are required, such as use of barriers, minimizing staff or customers in narrow or enclosed areas, and staggering breaks and work shift starts.
Ensure frequent and adequate hand washing with adequate maintenance of supplies. Use disposable gloves where safe and applicable to prevent virus transmission on tools or other items that are shared.
Establish a housekeeping schedule that includes frequent cleaning and sanitizing with a particular emphasis on commonly touched surfaces
Screen employees for signs/symptoms of COVID-19 at the start of their shift. Make sure sick employees stay home or immediately go home if they feel or appear sick. Cordon off any areas where an employee with probable or confirmed COVID-19 illness worked, touched surfaces, etc. until the area and equipment is cleaned and sanitized. Follow the cleaning guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control to deep clean and sanitize.
Post a sign requiring customers to wear cloth facial coverings, and prominently display it at the entrance to the business so that it is immediately noticeable to all customers entering the store.
Washington businesses ignoring pandemic closure orders and deciding to open or operate in direct violation of Gov. Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order may be cited and fined for unsafe workplace conditions under emergency rules filed May 26, 2020 by the state Department of Labor and Industries (DLI).
The closure order and the Safe Start Plan to reopen businesses are in place to keep workers and the public safe and to prevent the spread of the easily transmissible coronavirus.
The emergency rules, enacted at the direction of the Governor, take effect immediately. They give DLI the authority to cite businesses for being open or for operating in a way that is purposely defying the phased-in approach and, as a result, putting their workers at risk.
“We’re all in this together, and most businesses are doing the right thing for our state and our communities. Unfortunately, there are some that are choosing not to,” said DLI Director Joel Sacks. “The coronavirus is a known workplace hazard and businesses must follow the requirements to keep their workers and the public safe.”
Protecting worker safety and ensuring a level playing field
DLI will work with the state Emergency Operations Center to take in and respond to complaints about businesses ignoring pandemic closure orders and operating illegally. If employers are found to be defying the Governor’s order, they’ll be informed and directed to close or adjust operations immediately. If they do not, they’ll face a workplace safety citation that could carry a fine of nearly $10,000 or more.
Along with contacting businesses by phone and in writing, DLI will perform in-person spot checks on some of the businesses to make sure they are following through and complying with the Safe Start requirements. It’s not fair to employers who are following the law when other businesses defy it. DLI’s role will complement efforts by the Liquor and Cannabis Board and other state licensing and permitting agencies.
Today’s post comes from guest author Paul J. McAndrew, Jr., from Paul McAndrew Law Firm.
Today’s post comes from our colleagues at WorkersCompensation.com
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced the preliminary Top 10 most frequently cited workplace safety violations for fiscal year 2018. Patrick Kapust, deputy director of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs, presented the Top 10 on the Expo floor as part of the 2018 NSC Congress and Expo, the world’s largest annual gathering of safety professionals.
While the rankings for OSHA’s Top 10 most cited violations vary little from year to year, violation No. 10 on this year’s list, “Eye and Face Protection” (1926.102), was not on the 2017 list.
“Knowing how workers are hurt can go a long way toward keeping them safe,” said National Safety Council President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman. “The OSHA Top 10 list calls out areas that require increased vigilance to ensure everyone goes home safely each day.”
The Top 10 for FY 2018* are:
1. Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501)
2. Hazard Communication (1910.1200)
3. Scaffolding (1926.451)
4. Respiratory Protection (1910.134)
5. Lockout/Tagout (1910.147)
6. Ladders (1926.1053)
7. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178)
8. Fall Protection – Training Requirements (1926.503)
9. Machine Guarding (1910.212)
10. Eye and Face Protection (1926.102)
A more in-depth look at the Top 10 violations for 2018 will be published in the December edition of the Council’s Safety+Health magazine.
*Preliminary figures as of Oct. 1, 2018
About the National Safety Council The National Safety Council (nsc.org) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to eliminate preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy. Founded in 1913 and chartered by Congress, NSC advances this mission by partnering with businesses, government agencies, elected officials and the public in areas where we can make the most impact.
Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.
The extra penalty for employers that ignore safety rules is something not available to injured workers in Washington State, but it is an interesting concept that provides real incentives for safe workplaces.
In most instances, an injured worker cannot sue her employer for a workplace injury. However, if an injury results from an employer’s reckless, intentional, or illegal action, an injured worker can bring a separate claim against the employer directly. An employer’s violation of the Wisconsin state safety statute or of any Department of Workforce Development (DWD) safety administrative rule which causes a worker’s injury can trigger a 15% increased penalty for the employer (Section 102.57 of the Worker’s Compensation Act). This increased compensation is based on the amount of compenstion paid by the insurance carrier and is capped at $15,000. The big deal is that the safety violation penalty is not paid by the insurance company–it is paid directly from the employer’s pocket (which also makes for increased litigation of these claims!).;
In a win for injured workers, a recent Court of Appeals case (Sohn Manufacturing v. LIRC), decided on August 7, 2013, reaffirmed the ability of the Worker’s Compensation Department to hold employers responsible for unsafe behavior. In the Sohn case, the worker operated a die cutter machine, and the employer instructed her to clean it while the anvil rollers were running. The worker suffered a severe hand injury when her hand was pulled into the machine. A state investigator found an OSHA violation as well as a violation of the state safety statute (Section 101.11). An administrative law judge and the Labor and Industry Review Commission affirmed an award of a safety violation under 102.57 of the worker’s compensation act.
The employer challenged this ruling in court, arguing that the federal OSHA law preempted Wisconsin’s ability to enforce safety procedures under Section 102.57 and that an OSHA investigation cannot form the basis for a state safety violation claim injured workers should be thankful that the Court of Appeals rejected both of these arguments. First, the Court explicitly stated that OSHA does not preempt Wisconsin’s ability to award penalties under Section 102.57, as the safety violation statute is not an enforcement mechanism and OSHA was not intended to impact state worker’s compensation rules. More importantly, the Court indicated that an OSHA violation of a federal workplace safety regulation can be used as basis to demonstrate an employer’s violation of Wisconsin’s state safety statute (Section 101.11).
While the decision was not surprising, it reaffirms the state’s commitment to holding employer’s accountable for safety violation rules under the worker’s compensation system. Workers and practitioners also should remain aware of any OSHA violation found post-injury. A document demonstrating a federal OSHA violation can form the immediate basis for a safety violation under Section 102.57.