Prepare for the Worst and Hope for the Best

By Kathleen Jennings (kjj@wimlaw.com)

Last week, an EF-3+ tornado touched down in the city where I live, so it is not surprising that the concept of disaster preparedness is on my mind. (Thankfully, my family and I suffered no damage).

Is your business prepared if a disaster were to strike? And is your business required by OSHA to have a written emergency action plan?

According to OSHA, an emergency action plan (EAP) is intended to facilitate and organize employer and worker actions during workplace emergencies and is recommended for all employers. Well-developed emergency plans and proper worker training (i.e., so that workers understand their roles and responsibilities within the plan) will result in fewer and less severe worker injuries and less damage to the facility during emergencies. A poorly prepared plan may lead to a disorganized evacuation or emergency response, resulting in confusion, injury, illness (due to chemical, biological and/or radiation exposure), and/or property damage.

Two OSHA standards (29 CFR 1910.38(a) and 29 CFR 1926.35) require written EAPs. Not all employers are required to establish an EAP but developing an EAP is a good way to protect workers and businesses during an emergency. Emergency preparedness is a well-known concept in protecting workers’ safety and health.

At a minimum, for businesses that are required to to have an EAP, the plan must include:

  • A preferred method and/or procedures for reporting fires and other emergencies (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(1) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(5));
  • Emergency escape procedures and route assignments, such as floor plans, workplace maps, and safe or refuge areas (example shown below) (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(2) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(1));
  • Procedures to account for all workers after an evacuation, such as designating an assembly location (e.g., a safe/refuge area) (29 CFR 1910.38(b)(4) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(3))
  • Names, titles, departments, and telephone numbers of individuals both within and outside the company to contact for additional information or explanation of duties and responsibilities under the emergency plan (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(6) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(6));
  • Procedures for workers who remain to perform or shut down critical plant operations, operate fire extinguishers, or perform other essential services that cannot be shut down for every emergency alarm before evacuating (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(3) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(2)); and
  • Rescue and medical duties for any workers designated to perform them (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(5) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(4)).
  • Names, titles, departments, and telephone numbers of individuals both within and outside the company to contact for additional information or explanation of duties and responsibilities under the emergency plan (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(6) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(6));
  • Procedures for workers who remain to perform or shut down critical plant operations, operate fire extinguishers, or perform other essential services that cannot be shut down for every emergency alarm before evacuating (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(3) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(2)); and
  • Rescue and medical duties for any workers designated to perform them (29 CFR 1910.38(c)(5) and 29 CFR 1926.35(b)(4)).

And don’t forget to perform regular evacuation drills so that employees actually know what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency.

Kathleen J. Jennings is an attorney licensed to practice law in Georgia and New York. She graduated from Cornell University, College of Arts & Sciences, with distinction and New York University School of Law. She is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. and defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at kjj@wimlaw.com.

The materials available at this blog site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Kathleen J. Jennings and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author.

Copyright 2022 by Kathleen Jennings

The Supreme Court Stays the OSHA ETS; CMS Vaccine Mandate for Healthcare Workers Goes Forward

By Kathleen J. Jennings (kjj@wimlaw.com)

Yesterday, we received decisions from the US Supreme Court on the status of the OSHA COVID-19 ETS and the CMS vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. As I predicted, the OSHA ETS has been stayed, and the CMS mandate has been allowed to go forward.

Why were the two vaccine mandates treated differently? Short answer: the Court found that the fact that CMS has authority to regulate the health and safety of patients gave it authority to issue the vaccine mandate, while the Court also found that OSHA’s authority to issue an ETS to address a “grave danger” in the workplace did not extend to COVID-19. This is a gross oversimplification, but you get the idea.

Many employers with more than 100 employees are breathing a sigh of relief that they are no longer required to engage in the logistically difficult task of regular COVID-19 testing of workers. Employers still need to follow OSHA and CDC guidance regarding COVID-19 precautions such as social distancing and masking. And with the highly contagious nature of the Omicron variant, employers need to take steps to minimize the spread of infection in the workplace for reasons of worker health and to minimize worker absenteeism.

As for employers of healthcare workers, you need to review recent CMS Guidance that provides detailed information on how surveyors will review facilities for compliance with the vaccine mandate.

Kathleen J. Jennings is an attorney licensed to practice law in Georgia and New York. She graduated from Cornell University, College of Arts & Sciences, with distinction and New York University School of Law. She is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. and defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at kjj@wimlaw.com.

Copyright 2022 by Kathleen J. Jennings

The materials available at this blog site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Kathleen J. Jennings and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author.

What Are the Top Ten Cited Violations By OSHA?

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

By Kathleen J. Jennings (kjj@wimlaw.com)

Everybody likes a good Top Ten list, and those of us who follow OSHA like to know what types of violations make it to OSHA’s Top Ten list.

So here we go–the following are the Top Ten Most Cited Violations by OSHA in 2021:

1) Fall Protection: 5,295 violations

2) Respiratory Protection: 2,527

3) Ladders: 2,026

4) Scaffolding: 1,948

5) Hazard Communication: 1,947

6) Lockout/Tagout: 1,698

7) Fall Protection – Training Requirements: 1,666

8) Personal Protective and Lifesaving Equipment – Eye and Face Protection: 1,452

9) Powered Industrial Trucks : 1,420

10) Machine Guarding: 1,113

Note that fall protection has held the top spot on the list for eleven straight years. The violation that moved up the charts this year was respiratory protection, possibly driven by COVID related issues. Hazard communication (Hazcom) fell from second to fifth.

Employers need to regularly check their worksites to make sure that workers are protected from fall hazards. OSHA requires that fall protection be provided at elevations of four feet in general industry workplaces, five feet in shipyards, six feet in the construction industry and eight feet in longshoring operations. In addition, OSHA requires that fall protection be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance.

Furthermore, to prevent employees from being injured from falls, employers must:

  • Guard every floor hole into which a worker can accidentally walk (using a railing and toe-board or a floor hole cover).
  • Provide a guard rail and toe-board around every elevated open sided platform, floor or runway.
  • Regardless of height, if a worker can fall into or onto dangerous machines or equipment (such as a vat of acid or a conveyor belt) employers must provide guardrails and toe-boards to prevent workers from falling and getting injured.
  • Other means of fall protection that may be required on certain jobs include safety harness and line, safety nets, stair railings and hand rails.

And make sure that employees are trained in the use of any safety harnesses and actually utilize them. I have visited a site where a worker fell 15 feet onto a concrete floor (and survived). His employer had provided a safety harness, but he never bothered to put it on. A supervisor or manager should conduct regular checks of workers to verify that they are using fall protection when necessary.

Kathleen J. Jennings is an attorney licensed to practice law in Georgia and New York. She graduated from Cornell University, College of Arts & Sciences, with distinction and New York University School of Law. She is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. and defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at kjj@wimlaw.com.

Copyright 2021 Kathleen Jennings

The materials available at this blog site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Kathleen J. Jennings and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author.

Protected Concerted Activity in the Era of COVID-19: What Employers Need to Know

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

By Kathleen J. Jennings (kjj@wimlaw.com)

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is one of the federal agencies that many employers do not have on their radar. The NLRB is most closely associated with union organizing efforts and collective bargaining agreements between unions and companies. In 2020, only 10.8 percent of wage and salary workers in the US were members of unions (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), so the vast majority of companies may think that the NLRB will not bother with them. And they would be wrong.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on July 5, 1935, is the federal statute administered and enforced by the NLRB. Most employees in the private sector are covered by the NLRA. The NLRA guarantees the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively with their employers, and to engage in other protected concerted activity. It’s the “other protected concerted activity” that even non-union employers need to be aware of.

Basically, the NLRA gives employees the right to act together to try to improve their pay and working conditions, with or without a union. If employees are fired, suspended, or otherwise penalized for taking part in protected group activity, they can file a complaint with the NLRB. The NLRB has the power to investigate and take action to make an aggrieved employee whole for any losses due to the employer’s violation of the NLRA (think lost wages and benefits for a terminated employee).

The type of conduct that falls under the definition of “protected concerted activity” is very broad. To be protected conduct, employee conduct must be both “concerted” and for “mutual aid and protection.” But individual conduct or speech can be considered “concerted;” it is well-established that concerted activity includes statements by a lone employee addressing coworkers that seek to initiate, induce, or prepare for group action or, or statements directed to management communicating a truly group complaint.

Bottom line: if employees are talking about anything related to work, it’s probably protected by the NLRA. For example, any workplace rule that prohibits employees from discussing their rates of pay with one another violates the NLRA.

A practical example of what constitutes “protected concerted activity” in the era of COVID-19 was recently addressed by the NLRB in an Advice Memorandum. An employee of a company that sells replacement windows posted a message about COVID-19 precautions on a group work chat maintained by the employer on a third-party messaging application and accessed from personal equipment: “[i]n the last three weeks, our case count has spiked in parallel timing with the last Phase of reopening.” This started a discussion among other employees offering their opinions about the effectiveness of COVID precautions.

The employee was removed from the group chat, then reinstated to the chat with the admonition that he not post anything about COVID-19. The employee eventually refused to report to work on the ground that “the imminent threat to safety caused by the recent spike in area COVID-19 cases, the Employer’s inaction in mitigating the threat, and the inability to discuss these dangers with coworkers prohibited him from performing his job in good faith.” On these facts, the NLRB concluded that the Employer had violated the NLRA by removing the employee from the group chat, making statements that restrained the employee from communicating about his work-related concerns, and constructively discharging the employee. Going forward, the NLRB will issue a complaint against the Employer, and a hearing will be conducted to determine whether the employee is entitled to reinstatement to his job and backpay.

The Takeaway: Many employees have very strong opinions about all things COVID, and they are eager to share them with others. Employers may wish to limit such discussions so that they do not interfere with work. However, when those discussions touch on workplace issues, such as workplace mitigation procedures, workplace vaccination policies, or workplace safety, employers need to tread very lightly or risk an NLRB complaint (or even worse, an OSHA citation for retaliating against an employee who complains about workplace safety issues).

Kathleen J. Jennings is an attorney licensed to practice law in Georgia and New York. She graduated from Cornell University, College of Arts & Sciences, with distinction and New York University School of Law. She is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. and defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at kjj@wimlaw.com.

Copyright 2021 Kathleen Jennings

The materials available at this blog site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Kathleen J. Jennings and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author.