Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most mine operators have been waiting for MSHA to release some health and safety guidance regarding the outbreak and how to safeguard the safety and health of their miners. After a protracted period of silence, MSHA recently provided some guidance: simply directing mine operators to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, which outlines steps employers can take to help protect their workforce.
During the height of the novel coronavirus’ (COVID-19) outbreak in China, the country isolated Wuhan to contain the spread of the virus. As global cases of COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed during the last several weeks, Italy, Spain, and France have imposed a similar strict quarantine of all residents. We are now starting to see similar measures being imposed here in the United States on a localized basis.
Like many Americans, when I’m not talking on the phone before I get to the office during my morning commute, I listen to audiobooks or podcasts. Recently, during one such commute, I listened to an informative yet alarming interview with Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, Ph.D., MPH, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, about the COVID-19 virus outbreak.
With fear of the COVID-19 coronavirus gripping the nation, many employers – including mine operators large and small – are trying to keep their workforce safe and their businesses running as smoothly as possible (and a comprehensive and updated FAQ on how to do so can be found here). But along with the steps you might take to ensure its business as usual, you might also need to implement a hazards communication protocol in order to stay on the right side of the law.
As the current administration continues with its purported deregulatory agenda, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is struggling for an identity. After years of some of the most stringent compliance activity ever seen from an enforcement agency, the mining industry is experiencing record low injury rates and a historically low number of fatalities. While there may be some disagreement between the cause and effect of such historically low numbers, there cannot be any question that this extreme level of government oversight came with a cost.
New ANSI standards are going into effect March 1, 2020 for aerial work platforms. It is important to note that these standards are not OSHA requirements unless they would be adopted by OSHA, which is unlikely in the near future. It is also important to note that they only apply to new machines built after mid-2018; older machines do not need to be retrofitted. However, we are aware of general contractors giving their subcontractors notice that their employees need to be trained on these new standards. The new standards set guidelines for aerial work, platform design, safe use, and training, and the below provides a general overview of the new requirements.
At Fisher Phillips we're confident in the US' ability to weather the challenges of the COVID-19 virus, but we believe that it will be more challenging and will create more fear and disruption and SARS or other pandemics. We've been responding this weekend to employers that have employees scared because of the two deaths in Washington State. The NW is the canary in the coal mine for how employers will react to employee fears and the real challenges of this illness. Emails like this one may be flying as we type. Stay calm but prepare, and follow the law.