Your small business has worked hard to grapple with COVID-19 safety rules. You genuinely care about employee safety. You have paid attention to the CDC guidelines and followed them dutifully. You have implemented a mask policy, increased cleaning of common areas, and required physical distancing. You feel as if you’ve “checked the box” on COVID-19 compliance. Suddenly, a knock at the door of your business reveals an inspector from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries Division of Occupational Safety and Health (“DOSH”).
Are you ready for a DOSH Inspection on COVID-19? If not, how should you prepare for this possibility? This article provides a general roadmap on these issues.
What is DOSH?
DOSH is a Division of the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (“L&I”). DOSH develops and enforces safe and healthy rules by inspecting worksites for unsafe working conditions. DOSH also provides free on-site consultations to help employers create safe and healthy workplaces. DOSH enforces the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (“WISHA”), Chapter 49.17 RCW.
For context, the federal analog to DOSH is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”). OSHA enforces a set of federally regulated laws that require each employer to provide an environment for employees that is free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical injury to employees. WISHA requirements enforced by DOSH equal or exceed these federal regulations. RCW 49.17.010.
Can DOSH Show Up Unannounced? And What Can an Inspector Do?
WISHA authorizes DOSH to conduct unannounced workplace safety and health inspections. DOSH Inspectors are authorized “[t]o enter without delay,” with no advance notice, and “inspect, survey, and investigate.” RCW 49.17.070(1), (5).
Practically, this means that the DOSH Inspector will likely walk around your worksite and talk to your employees. The Inspector may also collect copies of relevant documents—such as policies related to any possible citation issues—and even require witnesses (e.g.., employees) to testify under oath.
DOSH Inspections cover the gamut of Washington COVID-19 rules and requirements. DOSH Inspectors can issue citations for alleged violations that result in fines. The fine amounts generally depend on the severity of the violations and can total in the tens of thousands of dollars or more. DOSH Inspectors also have the authority to require abatement, meaning that the employer must take appropriate corrective action for any violations.
How Can You Be Prepared for a DOSH Inspection on COVID-19 Issues?
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This famous quote from Benjamin Franklin rings true in all employment law matters, and COVID-19 safety compliance is no exception. DOSH Inspections feel intrusive and can produce anxiety. Your best way to prepare for an Inspection is to learn the issues relevant to your business and implement appropriate policies and programs.
For a starting place, you can visit https://coronavirus.wa.gov/what-you-need-know/safe-start. But you must proceed with caution. There are myriad rules, including numerous industry-specific requirements. It is imperative to carefully consider all regulations applicable to your business and craft and adhere to an appropriate safety plan to mitigate the risk of a violation.
Employers who want to be fully prepared for a DOSH inspection on COVID-19 should contact an employment law attorney to review the policies and plans being considered. The attorneys of Davis Grimm Payne & Marra are experienced with this and many other COVID-related topics, including handling appeals of DOSH citations. Please do not hesitate to reach out. We would be glad to help your company.