OR-OSHA Announces Workplace Social Distancing Investigations

Blog Post

In the wake of an onslaught of employee complaints about social distancing in the workplace, the Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Administration (“OR-OSHA”) announced that it would begin workplace inspections in order to enforce the social distancing requirements imposed by Governor Brown’s March 23 Executive Order.  Our blog post describing the Executive Order is available at Oregon Governor Announces “Stay Home” Order, a link to a media article about OR-OSHA’s announcement is at Oregon will begin inspecting workplaces over coronavirus complaints this week, and a link to OR-OSHA resources regarding workplace safety during the COVID 19 pandemic is here.

Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind if OR-OSHA conducts an inspection at your workplace:

  • OR-OSHA has the legal authority to inspect workplaces for compliance with safety standards, with or without notice. This includes the right to enter the workplace “during working hours or at other reasonable times, within reasonable limits, and in a reasonable manner.”  What is “reasonable” will depend on the circumstances, but in general it means that investigators may access your facility during regular business hours and may inspect portions of the facility as much as necessary to determine whether sound safety practices are being followed.
  • The OR-OSHA investigator will generally begin the inspection by holding a short conference with the employer’s representative. This is why it is important now to plan ahead and designate your representative(s), who may or may not be the same individual(s) who are enforcing social distancing compliance with Governor Brown’s Executive Order, and prepare them for how to cooperate with OR-OSHA.  During the conference the investigator will present his/her credentials and explain the purpose and scope of the visit, request any records he/she intends to review, determine whether any personal protective equipment is necessary while touring the facility, and inform the employer of OR-OSHA’s right to speak to employees and take photographs or conduct sampling.
  • The employer is entitled to have a representative accompany the investigator during the inspection. Inspectors have the right to question employees confidentially without management representatives present.
  • At the conclusion of the inspection, the investigator will conduct a closing conference to discuss his/her findings and advise the employer of any violations and safety hazards that have been identified. The investigator will also discuss OR-OSHA’s remediation and enforcement plan, including items like timelines for correcting any hazards, possible penalties, and the employer’s appeal rights.

As mentioned above, OR-OSHA is being inundated with social-distancing complaints.  With employee complaints, OR-OSHA frequently sends the employer a letter referencing the complaint and requiring a response.  Sometimes OR-OSHA comes to the workplace to conduct the inspection.  Either way, it’s important to have a plan in place ahead of time to comply with social distancing requirements. Here are some key points:

  • Follow the guidelines published by OR-OSHA, the CDC, and federal OSHA.
  • Educate and train employees and supervisors about your program’s requirements.
  • Supervise employees to ensure adherence, and be ready to answer questions about how to work efficiently while complying with social distancing requirements.
  • Enforce your program: if employees won’t comply, send them home and treat it as a performance management or disciplinary matter.

If you have more specific questions about OR-OSHA inspections, or about the OR-OSHA process generally, please reach out to your counsel at Stoel Rives.

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