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OSHA issues guidelines clarifying when contractors have to report COVID-19 cases

Contractors won’t need to report to OSHA cases of COVID-19 unless it’s clear that an employee caught the virus on a jobsite, under recently released guidance from federal officials.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued temporary guidance for construction companies late last week on when they should consider coronavirus cases a recordable incident that has to be reported on OSHA Form 300, a log of job-site injuries and illnesses. The rules seek to provide clarity to contractors after industry groups had asked for guidance from the agency on how to handle possible cases of COVID-19.

OSHA’s guidelines should come as a relief to most contractors, who were concerned they’d need to report cases of COVID-19 that might have been contracted outside work, said Dan Burazin, director of safety for the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee. Construction companies, however, still have a responsibility to maintain a safe workplace despite the pandemic, he said.

“What they’re saying in that guidance is focus on doing the things that keep your jobsite safe,” Burazin said. “It’s too difficult for you to determine whether an employee got coronavirus at home, at Walmart or the job site.”

The guidelines come after the Construction Industry Safety Coalition — a national group that includes the Associated General Contractors of America and the Associated Builders and Contractors — sent OSHA a letter in late March asking for clarity on when companies need to report illnesses. The groups warned that requiring reporting for every case could “skew” OSHA injury numbers and force companies to track down the origins of viral cases that in fact came from outside work. OSHA’s latest coronavirus guidelines are meant to alleviate such concerns.

Other industries, such as health care, in fact do have to try to track down the origins of all COVID-19 cases. But construction is not considered by OSHA as being at a particularly high risk for the spread of the virus.

Even for industries that are considered high risk, the agency has no concrete standard specifically for coronavirus. It’s instead drawing on its existing rules for bloodborne pathogens and other ailments, Burazin said.

The agency, however, does have an exception that takes effect should it become clear that the virus is spreading at a worksite. Burazin said if several workers on one site were to come down with COVID-19 at once, chances would be strong that they caught the illness on the job and reporting will be required.

Although contractors won’t need to report most cases of COVID-19, OSHA wants them to continue making sure workers are staying at least six feet apart from each other, washing their hands, wearing masks and taking other steps to prevent the spread of the virus, Burazin said.

“When OSHA puts these rules out, nothing’s black-and-white, there are always grey areas,” he said. “What they’re saying is, you still need to protect your people.”

About Nate Beck, [email protected]

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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