Without Much Ado, Cal OSHA Updates Guidance Regarding Vaccinated Individuals

As the federal government and state of California adjusted their COVID-19 guidance for vaccinated individuals, Cal OSHA remained silent on how vaccination affected the requirements under its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). While there had been discussions of revisions to the ETS, it was unclear if Cal OSHA would be able to release such revisions prior to the targeted reopening of California by June 15, 2021.

To read the full article on our California Workplace Law Blog, click here.

Are Adverse Reactions to COVID-19 Shots Recordable to OSHA? It Depends.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has determined that it will consider an adverse reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine a “work-related” recordable illness if an employee is required to take the vaccine as a condition of employment.

To read the full article, please click here.

Employers are Contesting OSHA’s COVID-19 Citations

Frustrated by constantly shifting guidance and shortages of respirators and other personal protective equipment experienced in 2020, employers are rejecting Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citations for COVID-19 infractions and contesting them like never before.

To read the article in its entirety, please click here.

OSHA Nomination Signals Greater Enforcement, New Standards

Signaling significant regulatory and enforcement changes from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), President Joseph Biden has named a California official to lead the agency.

To read the full article, click here.

OSHA Taking Its Time to Issue COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was directed under an executive order to promulgate an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to address COVID-19 no later than March 15, 2021. It has yet to do so.

To read this article in its entirety, please click here.

As States Reopen Employers Face Hard Choices on How to Manage Workplace Safety

The coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic has continued to evolve, with COVID-19 cases declining in some areas and vaccinations being rolled out in phases by local public health authorities. Yet widespread vaccinations are not expected to be in place until later in 2021, with many Americans not having access to vaccines until May or June at the earliest. Even so, some states view the evolving circumstances as sufficient to lift restrictions and start returning to “normal.” Mississippi and Texas, for example, have recently lifted mandated requirements on state residents to wear cloth face coverings, capacity limitations on businesses, and other COVID-19 related restrictions. Other states, such as Idaho, Nebraska, and Oklahoma implemented COVID-19 restrictions, but did not go so far as to require residents to wear cloth face coverings or masks while in public. While a majority of states still have mask mandate laws, the inconsistency and changing requirements in COVID-19 restrictions continues to pose challenges for employers in determining how to provide a safe work environment. Employers must also carefully balance workplace safety considerations with workplace cultures, polarized viewpoints, and continually changing dynamics.

As states continue to modify and rescind COVID-19 executive orders and restrictions, employers also need to remember that they may have ongoing obligations under other federal or state laws. From a federal level, employers are currently subject to the General Duty Clause in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSH Act”), which requires employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace that is free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. For this reason, employers generally need to evaluate COVID-19 hazards in their workplace and implement responsive preventive controls, even if there is no standing executive order compelling this action. To satisfy their General Duty Clause obligations, employers most likely need to comply with federal OSHA guidance directing employers to maintain written COVID-19 Prevention Plans and implement preventive measures, such as employee use of masks, social distancing, and enhanced cleaning and disinfection measures. Employers may also need to implement engineering (e.g., installation of barriers) and administrative controls to address potential COVID-19 hazards from their operations. Retailers, for instance, may need to consider redesign of workplaces, installation of barriers, and methods for contactless interactions to prevent employees from being exposed to COVID-19 through public or customer interactions.

Some states have also adopted emergency temporary standards that impose strict obligations on employers. California and Oregon, for example, have extensive emergency temporary standard requirements, which include requirements for employees to wear masks or cloth face coverings when there is a potential for interaction with others. Following behind Virginia, these states are also in rulemaking proceedings and plan to enact a permanent COVID-19 standard. Federal OSHA has even more signaled to employers that it intends to issue even stricter COVID-19 workplace safety and health standards and may enact an emergency temporary standard similar or more restrictive to those that have been implemented at a state level. OSHA has also conveyed that enforcement of workplace safety and health preventive measures to protect against COVID-19 exposures and spread of virus is a top priority.

It is nice to think about COVID-19 restrictions ending and life returning to normal. But even as states lift their COVID-19 related orders, employers will need to think carefully about the workplace safety measures implemented in their workplaces. Employers that operate on a national level or in multiple states may also have drastically different compliance obligations related to workplace safety requirements in different locations. This, in turn, could cause significant confusion for employees, customers, visitors, and other third parties that may be on-site. Employers may therefore benefit from engaging in proactive and transparent communications with employees and third parties on COVID-19 response measures.

If you have questions about the state orders applicable to your operations or how to comply with federal and state health and safety laws, please reach out to the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you often work or any member of our Workplace Safety and Health Team.

Inspector General Office Report Criticizes OSHA COVID-19 Enforcement, Pushes for COVID-19 Standard

Criticizing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) enforcement efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General (OIG) pushes for a COVID-19, virus-specific standard in its report issued on February 25, 2021.

To read the article in its entirety, please click here.

Continued Uptick in OSHA Requests for Information to Nursing Homes

Long-term care facilities have been hit hard by COVID-19. As we approach the one-year anniversary of this national emergency, many facilities have grown accustomed to the additional reporting and scrutiny. However, this climate has also made it easier for OSHA to target long-term care facilities. One of OSHA’s common tactics is using public records (e.g., newspapers and other media) as well as facility reports to the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) to support requests for information about employee deaths (often without opening an inspection). These inquiries come in a variety of forms, from written requests to cold calls. The knee jerk reaction to respond in full is not always the only option, and it can open up the facility to an unnecessary inspection. Most facilities simply do not need that type of disruption or distraction during these trying times.

Unlike the reports to NHSN, which requires nursing homes to report all staff deaths, employers are only required to report work-related deaths to OSHA. This can be a difficult determination with COVID-19 infections. In the spring of 2020, OSHA issued guidance that provided some insight into making such determinations, which we blogged about here.

It is important to remember that OSHA’s right to conduct an inspection is not absolute. OSHA must have specific evidence of an existing violation or show of administrative reasonableness. The fact of a COVID-related employee death does not necessarily meet these standards, particularly given the prevalence of community spread in many areas of the country. The lawfulness of an OSHA request for information or inspection must be determined on a case-by-case basis, and facilities should consult with counsel before refusing to provide information to OSHA.

OSHA’s efforts also underscore the importance of evaluating COVID-related employee deaths and hospitalizations to ensure compliance with OSHA’s reporting requirements.

Cal OSHA Offers Additional Guidance for Its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards: Testing Sites and Scope of Coverage

It has been three months since California approved the Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (“Cal OSHA”) COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”). The rushed implementation of Cal OSHA’s ETS, which imposed new and confusing obligations on employers, left many scratching their heads and resulted in several legal challenges to the ETS. For example, some agricultural employers challenged the ETS on grounds that it was ambiguous, imposed overwhelming compliance obligations on employers, and did not consider costs or feasibility.  Other employers continued to raise concerns over requirements in the ETS in public forums, through written questions to Cal OSHA, and directly with their representatives.

Cal OSHA responded to the concerns raised by employers and business associations by publishing a series of online FAQs at the beginning of January 2021. Following the initial series of FAQs, and largely in response to more employer questions, Cal OSHA quietly updated and revised the FAQs on January 26, 2021, and February 26, 2021. In its most recent rounds of FAQ updates, Cal OSHA has added new guidance on testing and the ETS’s scope of coverage.


A main area of confusion for employers since the ETS was adopted has been around the requirements for COVID-19 testing. This is because Cal OSHA’s ETS uses inconsistent language to discuss requirements (e.g., “offer” vs. “provide” in the context of required testing). The ETS also explicitly conveys that “all employees in the exposed workplace shall be tested and then tested again one week later,” raising questions as to whether an employer must require employees to undergo testing or exclude them from the workplace if testing is refused when required. Employers also struggled with understanding how testing should be provided to employees (e.g., on-site testing using a third party or requiring employees to get tested by a health plan provider). From the original FAQ, it is clear Cal OSHA views the testing provisions as requiring an employer to inform its employees on how they can obtain COVID-19 testing at no cost and during working hours or paid time when testing is required (i.e., following a work-related exposure if working in an exposed workplace during a minor or major outbreak). The original FAQ confirmed that employers had these same notification and testing obligations whenever testing is required under the ETS. But the FAQ largely did not explain how the employer could arrange for this testing beyond simply stating that employers were free to use state or local testing services, arrange testing with a third party, or use health plan provider testing options.

Recent updates to the FAQ clarify that employers have two primary options: the employer can (1) partner with a medical provider to establish a testing program; or (2) use the free testing services provided by the state or county health department. To locate county testing facilities, the employer should check the local county or city health department’s website.  To locate the correct website, employers may visit the California Department of Public Health or the National Association of County and City Health Officials website, and click on the applicable county or city health department. Although not mentioned in the updated FAQs, the state also maintains a website on COVID-19 testing locations that employers can use to find testing locations. Cal OSHA’s FAQ updates also convey that employers who need to test a large number of employees on a regular basis can partner with the State of California Valencia Branch Laboratory (“VBL”) to set up on-site testing of employees.

While the updates signal to employers that they may use many different resources to satisfy testing obligations under the ETS, the updates fail to address some of the practical and feasibility challenges that employers are facing. Cal OSHA’s FAQs, in particular, fail to address whether employees that refuse to undergo testing when required or directed under the ETS need to be excluded from the workplace. Instead, Cal OSHA states only that employees may refuse and do not need to sign a declination form. The FAQs are similarly silent on how an employer can effectively manage some of the costs related to testing, such as travel costs, testing time, and out-of-pocket expenses. This can be especially difficult for employers that have employees working in remote areas where there are limited testing locations, such that the use of available testing centers to achieve testing is impracticable or can result in substantial costs in paid time or travel expenses. Further, while Cal OSHA’s FAQs make a determination that employers can arrange for testing with a third-party medical provider, Cal OSHA’s FAQs and guidance do not even attempt to advise employers on where to start in setting up a workplace testing plan. As a result, employers lack clear direction on how to arrange for workplace testing in a way that will satisfy Cal OSHA’s requirements under the ETS and be consistent with workplace testing considerations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”). This, in turn, leads to more questions on the employer’s obligations for management of testing records, selection of COVID-19 tests to be used in their workplace testing plan, and coordination of testing with employees.

Scope of Coverage

Cal OSHA’s ETS applies broadly to California workplaces and has only a few limited exceptions. Cal OSHA’s ETS, for instance, does not apply to employees when covered by the Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (“ATD”) standard. In attempting to clarify the scope of this exception, Cal OSHA’s original FAQs conveyed that an employee in a single workplace could not be subject to both the ETS and ATD standards at the same time. This exception is critically important for employers in the healthcare space, as well as emergency responders, as these employees often have ongoing occupational exposures to COVID-19, such that compliance with the ETS would be untenable. In addition, these employees are protected against COVID-19 exposures in the workplace through the ATD’s strict preventive measures and mandatory use of personal protective equipment.

To illuminate the exception further, Cal OSHA’s updated FAQ confirms that emergency responders that are protected by the ATD standard are exempt from the ETS. This is shown by Cal OSHA’s example that firefighters cannot be subject to both the ETS and ATD standards at the same time. Simply put, the firefighter must be protected from COVID-19 under one of the standards, but not by both.  If the employer’s ATD Prevention Plan does not identify the firefighter as having occupational exposure to aerosol transmissible diseases, or if the firefighter is not protected under that plan, the ETS will apply. Employers in healthcare and emergency response will therefore need to carefully evaluate COVID-19 exposures in their workplaces and operations, and ensure that employees are protected by the preventive measures under either the ETS or ATD standard. Under this guidance, however, an employer cannot take the position that its entire workplace or operations are exempt from the ETS if only some of its employees are covered by the ATD standard. Employers in healthcare and emergency response may therefore need to comply with both the ATD and ETS in different areas of their operations.

Given the expedited roll-out of Cal OSHA’s ETS and the ongoing litigation surrounding the ETS, the agency will likely continue issuing new FAQs and guidance to employers.  If you need assistance in complying with the ETS or other Cal OSHA safety regulations, please reach out to the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you often work or any member of our Workplace Safety and Health Team.

New and Altered Hazard Communication Requirements Coming Soon

Earlier this month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) announced proposed amendments to the Hazard Communication Standard (“HCS”) in 29 CFR 1910.1200. The last time OSHA amended the HCS was in 2012 to align the standard with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (“GHS”) and to create consistency with other countries in chemical hazard classification, labeling, and communication. Before 2012, the HCS required manufacturers, importers, and employers to evaluate the chemicals they produced, imported, and used for possible hazards and communicate hazard information to downstream workers using container labeling and safety data sheets (“SDS”). To protect employees from chemical hazards, employers were also required to have written hazard communication programs and employee training. These measures were not, however, always done consistently because of the varying international, federal, and state laws regulating hazardous chemical identification, classification, and hazard communication. As a result, many employers had difficulty complying with the standard and workers were often confused on chemical hazards.

In amending the HCS in 2012, OSHA had a primary goal of ensuring workers received consistent and accurate information on chemicals they used in the workplace. A second goal was to ensure effective and consistent hazard communication between manufacturers, suppliers, and employers. This, in turn, required uniformity in the methods used to identify, classify, and communicate on chemical hazards (e.g., labeling and SDS pictograms and signal words). It also required major changes in how manufacturers, importers, suppliers, and employers evaluated chemical hazards, noted hazard information on product SDSs, and development or revisions to hazard communication programs and training materials to ensure employees understood SDS and label elements. In practical effect, OSHA’s 2012 amendments constituted a broad overhaul of the HCS and took time to implement. The revised HCS, in fact, was not fully implemented until June 1, 2016 and many employers faced challenges in meeting the compliance deadlines established in the revised standard.

While OSHA’s 2012 amendments helped match the United States’ approach to management of chemical hazards with international standards, OSHA’s 2012 amendments only aligned the HCS with Revision 3 of the GHS (77 FR 17574). The United Nations has, however, published revised editions of the GHS every two years since 2002 and is currently on Revision 8, making the HCS out of date with international standards. To bring the HCS up to date, or closer to it, OSHA’s proposed rulemaking if enacted would, among other things, align the HCS with Revision 7 of the GHS and select provisions of Revision 8. But the proposed modifications to the HCS also change how employers must label some chemical products in the workplace. The proposed revisions also alter requirements for SDS content and modify protections for chemical information that may be confidential business information or trade secret.

Changes in Hazard Classifications

One major amendment proposed for the HCS is to revise criteria for the classification of certain health and physical hazards, including unstable gases, non-flammable aerosols, skin corrosion, or irritation, eye irritation, and aerosols generally. The proposed amendments would also create a new hazard class for desensitized explosives. Through these changes, certain non-hazardous products, classed under the 2012 amendments, may now need to be identified as hazardous or managed in a different hazard class. They may also need to have revised labeling and SDSs. Employers handling and using aerosol products may now also have requirements under the HCS where previously they did not. Further, manufacturers, importers, and suppliers of aerosols, desensitized explosives, and flammable gases will need to reevaluate their products and ensure proper classification, identification, labeling and communication of product hazards.

Labels and SDS Content

While OSHA’s proposed HCS amendments do not change the existing requirements for hazards to be communicated to downstream users and workers through labeling and SDSs, they would require SDS and labeling revisions. OSHA has proposed new warning language and precautionary statements in an effort to help clarify chemical hazards to workers. Some language proposed in the amendments at first appears to be more of a stylistic change than substantive. For example, rather than say “during pregnancy/while nursing,” the new precautionary statement language would state “during pregnancy and while nursing.” But the effect of this change is significant in that now both the scenario of pregnancy and nursing must be addressed on the product label and SDS where before only one may have been on the label. Other proposed changes introduce entirely new statements for hazard classes and categories. OSHA has more proposed new precautionary pictograms and mandatory language.

Even though the proposed changes would require many chemical manufacturers, importers, and suppliers to revise and update certain products’ SDSs and labels, OSHA’s proposed rule contemplates that these revisions will be easy to make. Indeed, OSHA’s proposed rulemaking suggests that effected employers can make required changes consistent with the HCS’s existing requirement to update SDSs and labels whenever new information is available and within three and six months, respectively.

Cooperation with International Trading Partners and Federal Agencies

A key goal in OSHA’s proposed amendments to the HCS is to facilitate cooperation with international trading partners and federal agencies. This goal is particularly relevant to chemical manufacturers, suppliers, and importers who operate internationally, in that having consistent use of GHS across countries can reduce inconsistencies in chemical management compliance obligations. OSHA’s attempts to harmonize its procedures with other federal agencies is refreshing and the proposed amendments both consider how many regulatory frameworks a product may be subject to and seek alignment in imposed obligations. Chemical hazards may, for instance, be subject to requirements imposed by OSHA, the Department of State, the Department of Transportation (“DOT”), the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), the U.S. Coast Guard, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”), the Department of Energy (“DOE”), the Department of Defense (“DOD”), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”). Along with leading an U.S. Interagency GHS Coordinating Group and working with representatives of these other federal agencies, OSHA is also actively collaborating with EPA to address health hazards from chemicals consistently. EPA has, for example, proposed changes to its regulations on significant new uses of chemical substances under the Toxic Substances Control Act (“TSCA”) to align with the HCS and the GHS (81 FR 49598).

OSHA’s proposed amendments would also provide flexibility in labeling when the product is already labeled for shipment consistent with DOT regulations. For instance, OSHA has proposed new HCS language addressing requirements for bulk shipments that allows labels to be placed on the immediate container or transmitted with shipping papers, bills of lading, or electronically. This approach would ensure hazard information is immediately available to workers on receiving the shipment of hazardous chemical products but allows for different approaches in how hazard communication is achieved. The proposed amendments would also allow for use of a DOT required pictogram on the label of a shipped container, without requiring additional placement of the HCS pictogram for the same hazard.

Unique Circumstances

On top of updating the HCS, aligning with more recent revisions of the GHS, and ensuring consistent management of chemical hazards with federal agencies, OSHA’s proposed amendments aim to make the standard more effective in certain unique circumstances. OSHA has specifically included proposed HCS amendments on labeling of small containers and relabeling of chemicals for shipment. Small container labeling has been of significant interest to the regulated community because many manufacturers and importers reported they could not comply with the HCS’s labeling requirements for small containers during public meetings and requests to the agencies. Though OSHA has tried to address these issues in several letters of interpretation, the proposed amendments would specifically address how containers should be labeled when the label is too small to note all required safety information, including all information required would cause readability issues, and challenges associated with fold-out labels.

OSHA has similarly proposed changes to the requirements for relabeling of chemicals that have a long or complex distribution chain. Complex distribution chains include, for example, products that are manufactured and then shipped to a distributor where there are then held for a long time before distribution to an end user. Another example is product returns from downstream users that are then shipped from the distributor to other customers. In effect, OSHA’s proposed amendments eliminate relabeling in these scenarios, provided products are clearly labeled and hazards are effectively communicated.

OSHA has even more proposed two key changes to the HCS on trade secrets and proprietary information. Presently, OSHA does not allow manufacturers to claim concentration ranges as trade secrets. But under the proposed amendments manufacturers, importers, and employers would not have to disclose chemical concentration ranges on SDSs or labels if claimed as a trade secret and would instead use a prescriptive concentration range. This approach would fit with other country’s requirements for disclosure of substance ingredients and provide greater protection for confidential business information and trade secrets. Federal agencies would also still have avenues for learning of the substance ingredients if needed. OSHA, in particular, can obtain confidential business information on a specific chemical product in collaboration with EPA under the agencies’ memorandums of understanding and interagency working groups.

Considerations for Employers

OSHA’s proposed HCS amendments are substantial and would impact manufacturers, importers, suppliers, and employers. Employers, in fact, would need to review their product inventories, ensure proper product classification, as well as update their written programs, SDSs, and training materials. Employers may also need to modify their labeling procedures and methods of communicating chemical hazards. Once these changes are complete, employers will further have to roll out training to affected managers, supervisors, and employees. Implementing such extensive changes could be difficult for some employers, particularly if already facing competing compliance and resource priorities and demands caused by unforeseen challenges from the coronavirus pandemic.

Ways to Participate in the Rulemaking

OSHA’s notice of proposed rulemaking to amend the HCS asks interested parties to submit comments on the proposed changes. Comments, including requests for a public hearing on the proposed rule, must be submitted to the Federal Register for Docket No. OSHA-2019-0001 by April 19, 2021. If requests for a hearing are submitted during the comment period, OSHA will schedule an informal public hearing for interested parties to testify on the effect of the proposed rule and introduce evidence on the rule’s potential impact.

If you have any questions on OSHA’s proposed amendments to the HCS, would like assistance with submitting written comments, or need help with chemical risk management issues please reach out to the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you often work or any member of our Workplace Safety and Health Team.