Navigating OSHA Complaints During COVID-19

Apr 28, 2020 | Covid-19, Health Care

If you operate a healthcare facility, you may be faced with an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) complaint due to the supply shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). It’s important that your management team knows how to navigate OSHA complaints as they relate to COVID-19. OSHA is responsible for enforcing workplace safety standards and investigating violations, including failure to provide proper PPE to healthcare personnel. 

Due to PPE shortages, healthcare facilities may be unable to operate in accordance with prior practices. Limited reuse and extended use of PPE has become necessary in many facilities. Rapidly evolving federal guidelines require frequent adjustments to PPE policies. Employees may file a complaint with OSHA alleging they have not been provided with adequate PPE.

In the event OSHA receives notice of a health or safety hazard at your facility, OSHA will contact you requesting a response. You will have five days to investigate the hazard, compile documentation, and notify OSHA of what corrections you have made if needed. 

If the alleged hazard is based on a failure to provide adequate PPE, you will need to take steps to ensure your practices align with current OSHA and CDC guidelines. If you are already in compliance, your response letter to OSHA should set out the current recommendations available from the CDC and OSHA, and outline the specific measures your facility has taken to comply with those recommendations. This should include documentation of communications to personnel regarding evolving PPE policies, training protocols, and efforts to obtain PPE despite the shortage. You should demonstrate the hierarchical controls in place to ensure workers in the highest risk positions are provided adequate PPE. You should also provide evidence of other ways your facility has responded to COVID-19, including workplace practices such as isolation rooms and hand hygiene. 

In the event your facility is not already in compliance with OSHA and CDC recommendations regarding PPE, you should take corrective action. Your response letter to OSHA should illustrate the ways your facility has responded to the PPE shortage, and specify all of the necessary modifications you have made to fully comply with federal guidelines. 

If OSHA determines that you have provided an adequate response to the alleged hazard, no worksite inspection will be conducted. For formal complaints involving allegations of unprotected exposure to COVID-19 for workers in high-risk positions, such as health care personnel, OSHA may conduct an inspection depending on the severity of the complaint. Current enforcement guidance from OSHA indicates a preference for remote inspections, but on-site inspections may be warranted depending on the particular circumstance. For cases involving inadequate PPE due to supply issues, OSHA may opt for an informal phone/fax investigation, rather than an on-site visit.

Whether remote or in-person, an OSHA investigation will likely involve inspecting the facility’s procedures, training records, preparedness plans, and response to COVID-19. The documents already compiled for your OSHA response letter will be helpful to provide in the inspection.

If you need any assistance navigating the OSHA complaint process or preparing a response letter for your healthcare facility, contact our office.

This blog post is designed to provide general information on pertinent legal topics. The statements made are provided for educational purposes only. This blog does not provide legal advice. This blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Smith + Malek, PLLC. If you want to create an attorney-client relationship and have specific questions regarding the application of the law to your own circumstances, you should contact our office.