OSHA is showing discretion, cops are citing contractors, and painters are walking out – sometimes. Most things about this pandemic are unprecedented, including the wide range of impacts on industry. We have reports of OSHA instructing inspectors to show more discretion, police in PA citing a contractor for a training meeting, and union painters in MA staying home despite permission to work.
A memo dated April 16, 2020, from OSHA’s Director of Enforcement Programs directed inspectors to show “discretion” when enforcing employers’ compliance during the pandemic, stating “OSHA understands that some employers may face difficulties complying with OSHA standards due to the ongoing health emergency.”
OSHA is acknowledging that shutdowns and stay-at-home orders may prevent compliance in some areas. “Shelter-in-place requirements may limit the availability of employees, consultants, or contractors who normally provide training, auditing, equipment inspections, testing, and other essential safety and industrial hygiene services,” the memo states. Specifically, in some cases, rather than determining compliance, inspectors will assess an employer’s “good faith efforts to comply.” So take heed: this is not a “get out jail free card.” Rather, contractors are expected to make every effort to comply.
Again, don’t take this to mean enforcement has ceased. In fact, contractors may now encounter a whole new level of authority, including the state police. Last week, the Pennsylvania State Police issued its first citation for a business violating the state’s non-essential closure order. The Roofing Contractor publication reports that Lebanon County, PA, police received multiple reports from anonymous callers that a roofing contractor was violating the state’s stay-at-home order. Police visited the contractor’s office and found nine people engaged in ... a training meeting. None were wearing PPE nor practicing social distancing.
Roofing Contractor reports “employees had voiced their concerns to the owner about their health after a similar training session had occurred the previous day.” Police learned the contractor recently received two warnings in three days, and thus decided to issue the citation. The contractor had a letter from the PA governor, allowing him to make emergency repairs on jobsites, but the letter did not include an exemption for training meetings.
Employees are also voicing displeasure in Massachusetts, saying some employers are placing them in harm’s way. ENR reports District Council 35 of the IUPAT instructed its members to stay at home beginning April 7. Despite shutting down most job sites, the MA governor said new housing and infrastructure was exempt. But some workers have expressed concern for their safety while on job sites.
ENR also reported that “the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, which represents 75,000 union members ranging from carpenters and painters to ironworkers and laborers, urged [the governor] to shut down all but emergency work.”