Oregon OSHA will Adopt Rules Addressing the COVID-19 Emergency

stephen verotskyRecently, Oregon OSHA announced it has begun work on temporary rules addressing the COVID-19 emergency. The target date for the rules is September 1st and is expected to remain in effect through February 2021. The rules will be completed in consultation with the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), Public Health and other technical advisors and affected stakeholders.

Although Oregon OSHA has only begun its rule making process, it has been actively investigating COVID-19 related complaints. Since early March, Oregonians have filed approximately 5,500 workplace complaints related to the pandemic. For example, numerous complaints relate to employees not utilizing face coverings and not maintaining physical distancing. These complaints can translate into inspections and costly citations for employers.

Oregon OSHA does not currently have a safety rule specifically governing face coverings and other physical distancing measures, but it does have a general rule which states employers are obligated to provide a safe and healthful workplace for their employees, regardless of the industry type or job function. OAR 437-001-0760(1). In theory this is broad standard but in practice Oregon OSHA has been relying on Governor Brown’s executive orders and Oregon Health Authority guidelines to set the safety standard that employers must follow. Businesses, especially those that are open to the public, must continue to adapt as the expectations and OHA guidelines evolve.

The Oregon face covering mandate now applies to all indoor spaces that are open to the public and crowded outdoor spaces where maintaining a 6 foot distance is not possible. Employers must not only ensure their employees and contractors are compliant with face covering mandate, but it must also police the public or risk a cost violation. Oregon OSHA has stated: “It’s not enough to simply post a sign at your business saying ‘these are the face mask requirements’. Our expectation is for the business representative to engage with visitors, guests, and customers.”

Oregon OSHA contends a business creates a workplace hazard for employees if it permits customers to enter without a face covering. Employers are expected to enforce public compliance or risk a willful safety violation which carries with it a $9,000 fine. This policing activity can create its own hazards if customers become confrontational. Employers should select an employee to enforce the face covering mandate and ensure the employee is properly trained on how to diffuse confrontations.

If you have any questions concerning meeting Oregon OSHA’s COVID-19 expectations, please contact me at (503) 595-2136 or sverotsky@sbhlegal.com.