Everyone is headed back to work. Businesses are slowly reopening, and we are all trying to figure out how to make “the new normal” work for us. It is an exciting time that it is also filled with a considerable amount of anxiety. Some workers may feel it is too soon to be back in the workplace. This anxiety is heightened by the lack of adequate and appropriate supplies. These issues are reflected by the volume and nature of OSHA complaints filed over the past 3-4 weeks. Some states have received hundreds of worker complaints during this timeframe.
OSHA is required to evaluate each complaint to determine whether it can be an off-site investigation (correspondence exchange) or if it requires an on-site inspection. Complaints that are submitted to OSHA in writing and signed by a worker are more likely to result in an on-site inspection; however, OSHA was not conducting inspections during the Stay at Home Order. Inspections are starting again as states are reopening.
TMC has helped more clients respond to complaint letters across multiple states over the past 2 weeks than is normally seen in an entire year. These recent letters from OSHA were received because workers are filing complaints related to respiratory safety, especially PPE. The general issue has been the unavailability or delayed receipt of masks and respirators, requiring alternate PPE and other controls to be implemented in the meantime.
What does OSHA expect from you after sending a letter regarding a complaint alleging health and/or safety hazards?
- It is important to pay close attention to how quickly you must respond to the letter. Recent letters have been requiring a faster response. Be sure to send the response in the manner requested (e.g. fax, email, etc.).
- A copy of the letter and your response should be posted in an area where workers can easily access and review them.
- Whether you know who filed the complaint or not, you cannot discuss it with them or anyone. You cannot discriminate or take any retaliatory action against them.
- Fix any issues immediately and document your actions with items like order forms, invoices, delivery receipts, photos, etc.
- If you are having issues finding appropriate PPE, document your ongoing efforts to obtain it. This includes contacting suppliers, FEMA, professional associations, and other practices in your area.
When writing your response, remember:
- All items in the complaint must be addressed.
- Address only the items listed in the complaint. Do not provide additional information.
- Keep your responses short, to the point, and use a professional tone.
- Provide supporting documentation and/or photos, if relevant.