LANSING — To further protect workers from the increased spread of COVID-19, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) launched a State Emphasis Program (SEP) focused on office settings that addresses the need for increased vigilance, education and enforcement on remote work policies.
Workplaces continue to be a significant source of spread and outbreaks as Michigan battles COVID- 19 throughout the state. On Nov. 5, the Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) reported 18 new outbreaks from the previous week tied to office settings and is continuing to track 21 outbreaks tied to offices previously reported. It is imperative that employers implement the mitigation strategies and promote remote work to alleviate potential outbreaks.
“Workplace outbreaks are increasing along with the state’s community numbers,” said Director of COVID-19 Workplace Safety Sean Egan. “While employers are working hard to mitigate the spread, congregation of individuals whether at the workplace or a social gathering can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”
In MIOSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Rules, employers are required to create a policy prohibiting in-person work for employees to the extent that their work activities can feasibly be completed remotely. Under statute, MIOSHA can cite employers, require abatement, and fine them up to $7,000 for failing to produce a remote work policy or if the employer’s preparedness and response plan is noncompliant.
The focus of this SEP is to educate and seek compliance with guidelines and rules that will protect workers in office locations where community spread of COVID-19 is a risk. Under the Emergency Rules, employers must prohibit in-person work to the extent feasible to minimize the presence of individuals congregating in work settings where COVID-19 may spread. MDHHS also issued guidance last week including recommendations for remote work in office settings.
“Employers must prohibit in-person work when an employee’s duties can feasibly be completed away from the office. Remote work for office employees is a crucial mitigation strategy to contain the spread of COVID-19,” said MIOSHA Director Bart Pickelman. “Some workplaces, including offices, seem to be lax on requiring certain protocols. As our numbers rise, all workplaces in Michigan must promote and continue remote work to the absolute maximum. Congregating in any setting leads to potential spread and remote work helps mitigate some degree of congregation.”
MIOSHA will conduct inspections at workplaces with traditional office settings to review how rules are being followed and enhance compliance. While inspections will seek to help employers comply with safety standards, if the inspections determine deficiencies in the employer’s COVID- 19 preparedness and response plans, citations and penalties up to $7,000 may be issued.
Under the Emergency Rules, businesses that resume in-person work must, among other things, have a written COVID-19 preparedness and response plan and provide thorough training to their employees that covers, at a minimum, workplace infection-control practices, the proper use of personal protection equipment (PPE), steps workers must take to notify the business or operation of any symptoms of COVID-19 or a suspected or confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, and how to report unsafe working conditions.
A set of online resources at Michigan.gov/COVIDWorkplaceSafety provides businesses with the guidelines they and their employees must follow and includes a sample COVID-19 preparedness and response plan and a reopening checklist to help businesses put safeguards in place. Businesses can also find posters for employees and customers, factsheets and educational videos.
To enhance MIOSHA’s consultative services, the MIOSHA Ambassador Program’s safety and health experts are visiting businesses statewide to offer education and support, with a focus on workplaces with a higher risk of community transmission.
Employers and employees with questions regarding workplace safety and health may contact MIOSHA using the new hotline at 855-SAFE-C19 (855-723-3219).
To report health and safety concerns in the workplace, go to Michigan.gov/MIOSHAcomplaint. — G.G.