One of the most common questions we receive is “Is OSHA required or just recommended?” This question has been especially prevalent during the current pandemic. People want to know if they really have to follow the rule or if it is merely a suggestion. However, that is not what the words mean when it comes to OSHA citations and penalties.
Required means that it is specifically written into an OSHA law. With the current COVID-19 pandemic we also have temporary enforcement guidelines by OSHA that carry the same weight as a formal regulation. This is true when any immediate need to protect the safety and health of workers occurs. It takes time (sometimes years) to pass a new law and temporary guidelines can be implemented quickly when a clear danger is present.
“Do you know that over 1000 healthcare workers died in the first 7 months of the pandemic?”
Recommended usually means, in the context of OSHA regulations, the CDC has posted guidelines that exceed what is dictated by OSHA. The CDC does not have the ability to make it law. It evaluates the science of a hazard and recommendations of groups such as NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety) and can quickly get that information out to the public. OSHA will take CDC recommendations that specifically affect worker safety and will then draft a law to submit to Congress. This does not mean OSHA ignores CDC recommendations. OSHA can (and will) cite and fine for failure to follow CDC recommendations.
An OSHA regulation is known as “The General Duty Clause” gives them the power to cite CDC recommendations and industry standards. The General Duty Clause states: “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees: employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
Since the start of the pandemic through October 2020, OSHA cited 144 establishments for violations relating to coronavirus, resulting in proposed penalties totaling $2,025,431. The violations included failures to:
- Implement a written respiratory protection plan.
- Provide a medical evaluation, fit test, and training on the proper use of a respirator and PPE.
- Record and report an injury, illness, or fatality.
- Comply with the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
The only difference to OSHA between an OSHA law and a CDC recommendation is they will only ask about laws if they are performing a random inspection. If OSHA is inspecting for a particular reason such as a complaint or fatality they can and will ask questions about violations of CDC recommendations. This also applies if they view something that violates a CDC recommendation during a random inspection. If they find a violation of a law or recommendation the fines are the same.
If you are a TMC client be sure to notify the Client Service Center when you are inspected. We can aid you in negotiations and settlement with OSHA at no additional cost.