January 27, 2021

2021 OSHA Compliance Review: COVID-19, Citations, BBP Standard, and HazCom Standard

The start of a new year presents the perfect opportunity to review and refresh your Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance efforts to make sure your organization is effectively meeting requirements and keeping them top-of-mind.

This is especially important this year since many states have introduced or modified worker safety requirements due to COVID-19. As part of this annual assessment, your organization should take time to review any COVID-related rules, as well as other critical OSHA requirements, to ensure your compliance program is up to date.

What Are the New OSHA Requirements Related to COVID-19?

Various states have implemented requirements specific to COVID-19 and the workplace. In some cases, OSHA state plans have issued temporary emergency standards, while in other instances, state regulatory authorities outside of OSHA have announced their own requirements. Regulations range from simple to complex, with some states requiring considerable effort for full compliance. Topics covered include but are not limited to:

  • Conducting risk assessments
  • Creating COVID-19 preparedness and response plans
  • Performing mandatory health screenings
  • Using self-certification to identify potentially infected workers
  • Complying with maximum occupancy requirements
  • Displaying workplace posters that communicate safety measures

It is important to note that to fully understand what your state requires, you should also monitor state regulatory agencies as well. Your state’s COVID page can be a valuable resource for guidance. If your state has its own OSHA plan, be sure to check there, too. Any state may decide to add further requirements at any time, so regularly reviewing these resources is essential.

To keep you informed of new and changing requirements, we have dedicated a portion of our COVID-19 information hub to the topic. By checking this resource, you can get acquainted with many of the new rules.

Are There Certain OSHA Standards Cited More Frequently Due to COVID-19?

In conducting COVID-19-related inspections, OSHA has cited employers for violating some standards more than others. For example, violations around N95 respirators have generated the most citations in recent months. These kinds of respirators are the primary tool healthcare workers use to protect themselves from the virus and limit its spread.

Unfortunately, OSHA citations have called out issues such as failure to provide a medical evaluation before respirator fit testing, lack of a written respiratory protection program, insufficient training, improper equipment storage, and so on. These issues make logical places to start when reviewing your organization’s compliance.

To be clear, OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard requires the following whenever N95s are required:

  • A written Respiratory Protection Program (RPP). Both OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have comprehensive templates available that you can use to create or verify plan components. Stericycle also offers a Respiratory Protection Template that can be used for N95s.
  • Qualified administrator. This person should have knowledge of N95 respirators and the hazards they address. While no formal training is necessary, the individual should be familiar with the regulations and stay abreast of any changes.
  • Medical clearance for employees to wear an N95. Although this may require a medical exam, in most cases the healthcare worker need only complete the OSHA questionnaire that indicates whether a medical test is necessary. This is not an annual requirement and only needs to be completed once, unless employee health conditions change. 
  • Annual fit testing. This must happen every year and should initially occur before a healthcare worker is required to wear an N95 respirator.
  • Annual training. This must follow the same timing and cadence as fit testing. Online training, offered by OSHA and others, can meet this requirement.

Note: A summary of selected state requirements specific to COVID-19 is provided later in this document.

What Other Aspects of OSHA Compliance Warrant a Review? 

Outside of the new guidance introduced with COVID-19, there are other key OSHA regulations that healthcare organizations must continue to follow. Spending time assessing compliance with each of the following components can further ensure you are consistently meeting OSHA’s requirements and keeping workers safe.

The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard

The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard covers the inadvertent transmission of bloodborne pathogens (BBPs) that can cause illness and disease. It is one of the most critical OSHA regulations for healthcare organizations and can be challenging due to the multifaceted nature of compliance.

A key part of your annual review should involve assessing your organization’s Bloodborne Pathogens Exposure Control Plan to make sure it fully details how you prevent staff exposure to the spread of bloodborne pathogens. The plan should encompass topics like BBP training, personal protective equipment (PPE), workplace controls, vaccinations, and more. It should also outline what happens if an incident occurs, addressing how the exposed worker receives care, and any documentation requirements.

Another component of the assessment should include examining and documenting whether there are safer medical devices that could prevent worker exposure and whether requiring the use of those devices is warranted.

To get expert insight into the BBP standard and how to comply, view our Bloodborne Pathogens Exposure Control Plan webinar.

Hazardous Communication Standard

OSHA requires employers to communicate with employees about hazardous chemicals they may be exposed to at work. The following questions can help you verify whether your organization is in compliance with the Hazard Communications Standard and where potential gaps are:

Do you have a master list of hazardous chemicals used within the facility and has it been updated recently?

Addressing this question could involve reaching out to department heads and asking them to supply a list of hazardous chemicals in their departments. Periodically conducting an audit using outside experts can also be helpful.

Do you have a written hazard communication program?

This document should detail what risks employees face due to hazardous chemicals and how your organization will share information with employees about those risks. Using a plan template as a starting point can be helpful when creating or modifying the program to ensure you cover all the standards’ requirements.

Are the hazardous chemicals in your facility properly labeled?

Do the labels align with the Globally Harmonized System (GHS)? This is a set of internationally created and approved criteria for classifying health, physical, and environmental hazards. The GHS specifies information that organizations must use to describe hazardous chemicals on any labels, safety data sheets, and other communications.

Do you make Safety Data Sheets (SDS) readily available to your employees?

Organizations must have an SDS for each hazardous chemical in their inventories and check that the information is readily accessible in the work area for staff who could come in contact with the chemical.

Do you provide comprehensive staff training?

Employees should receive training when they are initially assigned to a job where there is a potential for hazardous chemical exposure. They should also receive training whenever there is a new hazardous chemical introduced in their work environment. Online training modules, such as those offered by Stericycle, can help meet this requirement.

Emergency Preparedness Program

Your organization should have detailed plans that cover emergency prevention and response. Per OSHA guidance, make sure you have plans that outline your general preparedness as well as how your organization would respond to specific kinds of disasters, including fire and extreme weather events. Your organization’s COVID-19 response may be included within an Injury and Illness Prevention Program.

Remain OSHA Compliant by Partnering with Stericycle

Remaining compliant with OSHA requirements demands constant vigilance. An annual review is just one way your organization can identify and resolve potential gaps. If you’re concerned that your compliance with the above requirements and regulations is lacking, visit our compliance training solutions hub to learn how Stericycle can help ensure you’re covered. Additionally, a summary of the latest OSHA state-specific COVID-19 regulations can be found on our COVID-19 knowledge hub.

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