OSHA Updates and Removes Guidance From Its COVID-19 FAQs

Randi Klein Hyatt
Randi Klein Hyatt
08/04/2020

As an increasing number of states, local governments, and private employers are mandating that employees, particularly those who work indoors and in close proximity to other employees, wear masks covering the mouth and nose to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, last Friday, OSHA updated its frequently asked COVID-19 questions and answers.  As to wearing cloth masks, OSHA stated unequivocally that workers who wear cloth masks to prevent coronavirus infection are not endangered by low oxygen levels or possible carbon dioxide poisoning.  Because cloth masks are loose-fitting with no seal, and are designed for breathability, the risks are not present.  OSHA also confirmed that wearing masks does not violate federal rules protecting workers from dangerous gas levels or other airborne contaminants. 

A few days day prior to this cloth mask update, OSHA removed six FAQs from its website for when an employer must report to OSHA that a worker was hospitalized for COVID-19.  There is a sense the change may have been prompted by voiced concerns that the guidance incorrectly interpreted OSHA’s Rule 1904.39(a)(2) obligating employers to report hospitalizations within 24 hours for an on-the-job injury or illness.  While the Department of Labor was not candid about the reasons for withdrawing the guidance, the DOL issue a written statement that “OSHA continues to refine the FAQ page and is working to make the FAQ clearer for the stakeholder community.” 

There are two separate 24-hour periods in the regulation for employers to consider:  employers have to report hospitalizations that occur within 24 hours of the work-related incident, and they are to be reported within 24 hours of when they learn of it.  In the removed FAQs, OSHA had said an employer would have to report COVID-19 hospitalizations no matter how long it had been since the workplace exposure.

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