Last Friday, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration released statistics on citations issued to employers for COVID-19 safety violations. OSHA has not issued a COVID-19 safety standard, and the citations have been brought under either the “General Duty Clause,” the respirator standard, or as a violation of OSHA reporting and recordkeeping requirements. OSHA revealed that to date, it has issued 37 citations nationwide, carrying cumulative penalties of more than $484,000.
Virtually all of the citations were issued to health care employers and assisted living facilities. The statistics do not include citations issued by state OSHA agencies and represent only those investigations closed since the beginning of the pandemic. These numbers are likely to significantly increase as subsequent investigations conclude.
On the same day, OSHA also released a temporary non-binding enforcement guidance on fit testing requirements for employees who use respirators. Employers have complained that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been unable to obtain equipment required to perform the fit testing. In its new guidance, OSHA explains that it will not cite employers that use NIOSH-approved tight-fitting, powered air-purifying respirators when initial or annual fit testing is unavailable due to equipment shortages.
The guidance only applies to health care or other employees at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 infection. OSHA concluded the guidance by listing acceptable alternatives to difficult to obtain N95 respirator masks.