Cal/OSHA COVID Requirements: Does Your Business Comply?

OSHA announced penalties totaling more than $3.9 million as a result of violations relating to the coronavirus pandemic.

Employers were cited for various issues, including:  

  • No written respiratory protection program
  • Failure to report an injury, illness or death
  • Improperly documenting injuries or illnesses
  • Failure to provide training on use of personal protective equipment
  • Noncompliance with various OSHA health standards

While federal OSHA compliance requirements are demanding, California’s requirements under Cal/OSHA are even tougher. Employers will face fines and penalties if not in compliance. Here is what you need to know.

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Cal/OSHA adopted COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) on November 30, 2020. 

As coronavirus cases steadily rise in number, workplace health and safety standards are being tightened. California OSHA announced temporary emergency workplace standards that went into effect November 30 (California Code of Regulations, Title 8, section 3205(c)). 

From Cal/OSHA’s official website

“The ETS applies to all employers, employees, and to all places of employment with three exceptions: workplaces where there is only one employee who does not have contact with other people; employees who are working from home; employees who are covered by the Aerosol Transmissible Diseases regulation.”

The Aerosol Transmissible Diseases regulation is applied to those employees who already work in an environment where contracting an airborne disease is possible. These employers should have previously required face coverings. 

Many of the provisions included in the ETS are already required under the Injury & Illness Prevention Program (IIPP). The IIPP was revised earlier in 2020 to require the use of face coverings and enforce social distancing, both of which are intended to reduce the spread of COVID. 

Under the emergency requirements, all employers must develop a written COVID-19 Prevention Program (CPP).

If you are unsure about your compliance status, refer to your existing IIPP. Cal/OSHA notes that employers may amend their existing IIPP to include the updated prevention program language. You can create written CPP guidelines separate from the IIPP if you choose. 

The individual responsible for creating and implementing the CPP guidelines should carefully review California Code of Regulations, Title 8. Elements from each code may be required to fully comply with the regulations. 

In general, under the new guidelines employers must implement procedures to:

  • Identify and control COVID-19 hazards
  • Investigate COVID-19 cases
  • Report and record COVID-19 cases
  • Communicate with employees
  • Train employees on how to properly follow safety measures
  • Set return-to-work criteria

Employers that do not implement these written guidelines are not in compliance, opening the door to fines, penalties, and/or litigation. Cal/OSHA has signaled that their enforcement personnel will consider an employer’s good faith efforts to comply. However, some aspects of the ETS, like eliminating hazards, are essential and must be implemented immediately.  

Note that implementing the procedures listed above does not ensure compliance. Refer to Cal/OSHA for more information. 

I don’t know if my business is in compliance.
What should I do?

COVID-19 has—at least temporarily—resulted in heightened workplace safety regulations. Employers not only risk fines for noncompliance, they also put their employees and customers at greater risk of contracting the virus. Though the requirements are strict, and in some ways must be implemented on the fly, Cal/OSHA expects employers to comply. 

Typically, an employer will turn to their HR department to develop these written guidelines. HR staff may have previously implemented some of the new provisions in the last IIPP update in response to the coronavirus. At the very least, internal HR should become familiar with the new guidelines and know the steps required to begin implementing them. Above all else, implementing these new guidelines correctly—not necessarily quickly—will prevent persistent noncompliance issues and reduce the likelihood of violations. 

However, relying entirely on internal HR to implement new guidelines often results in noncompliance. The reason for this is many HR departments are comprised of “topic experts” who fill a singular need within the company. When noncompliance issues pop up—in this case, emergency workplace health regulations—their over-specialized knowledge can result in compliance issues that linger, costly fines, time-consuming litigation, company inefficiencies, and company instability. If they are familiar with the compliance issue at hand, chances are they’re bogged down with other compliance issues they know very little about, slowing down the implementation timeline.

Internal HR is not the only option when it comes to implementing new guidelines or rectifying noncompliance issues. Professional HR outsourcing is a more rounded approach to HR in which a team of specialists review current policies, identify and rectify exposures, and implement new policies when required.

Outsourced HR can completely replace your internal HR department. Alternatively, it can be used to complement your internal HR, with your HR service provider handling complex matters like COVID policy compliance, while your HR employees have the time they need to handle more common day-to-day matters. 

HR outsourcing is not any more costly than the fines and litigation that result from persistent issues with compliance. HR outsourcing experts can deal with technically demanding responsibilities at a higher quality and a lesser cost than traditional HR departments. 

If you don’t know whether your business complies with Cal/OSHA’s new coronavirus guidelines, or if you’re dealing with persistent noncompliance issues, Employer’s Guardian HR outsourcing services can help. We are intimately familiar with OSHA and Cal/OSHA policies, will review your current policies to identify issues, and effectively implement new guidelines that meet compliance. Contact us today for more information!

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