As we watch the nation attempt to reopen in the midst of a global pandemic, compliance with OSHA has evolved and it is more important than ever to remain compliant and retain employee safety standards. Employees are entitled to a safe and hazard-free workplace, and COVID-19 presents new risks. It is not only good practice, but it is federally mandated that you develop policies and procedures to ensure the safety of employees in the workplace.
Welcoming employees back presents a variety of risks as the virus is prone to spreading indoors and in personal interactions. Many salespeople operate outdoors, but the intimate nature of the selling process puts them and the customer at risk. F&I managers need to make sure they take proper precautions when sitting down with the customer in a closed setting. Studies have show that the risk of indoor interactions can be reduced through proper ventilation and the avoidance of recirculating air conditioning.
Employers are required to mitigate the spread of the virus in the workplace and should implement strategies for basic hygiene, social distancing, identification and isolation of sick employees, workplace controls and flexibilities, and employee training that are appropriate for this phase. Employers should also be open to alternative methods of operation such as remote work and contact-free selling to protect their employees and customers. The automotive industry is largely built on forming personal connections which leads to a sale and creative tactics have and should continue to be used to make sales and provide ease to the customer. That creativity must also be balanced with the regulations our industry faces, and consistent practices on ongoing operation is a great way to institute a flexible and safe dealership. However, it is also important to remain vigilant and respectful of employees and consumers by taking action toward preventing, monitoring, and responding to any resurgence of COVID-19 in the workplace or your community.
While there are no OSHA regulations specific to COVID-19, employers remain responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace that is free from serious recognized hazards. OSHA’s guidelines regarding PPE, respiratory protection, and sanitation are extremely pertinent to compliance and ensuring employee safety.
Your first step should be a hazard assessment to assess who is at risk and the locations that safety precautions should be implemented. This will help you provide hygienic resources like soap, sanitizer, and disinfectants in areas with high concentrations of contact. Social distancing should be adhered to, and by establishing an in-store capacity and signage will encourage employees and customers to respect and adhere to distancing strategies. A protocol and policy for ill employees must be established and communicated. Requiring those showing symptoms to work remotely, regardless of the severity, is best practice. Routine assessments of employees who have been exposed or are returning from self-isolation, whether it be testing, health screens, temperature checks, or personal evaluations are essential to curb the spread of the virus. Lastly, and potentially most importantly, is the proper education of employees. This includes the correct use and retention of PPE equipment, risks and symptoms of COVID-19, and the policies established in the workplace.
I feel safe in assuming I can speak for everyone in saying we all want to get back to business-as-usual, but right now that is not the reality. COVID-19 presents new hazards, and it is important not to lose sight of employee rights and employer responsibilities. Employers have a right to conduct on-site temperature checks and health screenings without the fear of breaching regulations on discrimination in the workplace. Employers may also conduct on-site testing to ensure employees and customers that your business is safe and capable of reopening. That being said, if you do choose to conduct on-site testing or screening compliance, the Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records standard must be taken into consideration. This standard requires employers to retain the records for the duration of each worker’s employment plus 30 years and follow confidentiality requirements. Employers can avoid this by assessing the information in real-time without recording the results, or by the collection of temperatures by non-medical personnel. In summation, OSHA regulations encourage a safe transition into the reopening of businesses and won’t inhibit that by enforcing trivial regulations.
The use of PPE equipment, or lack thereof, is regulated and enforced by OSHA. Adequate PPE supply and usage is essential in this conversive industry. It is the job of the employer to determine employee use of gloves, surgical masks, and face shields as well as internal rules on social distancing and customer PPE. Any failure to mitigate the hazards faced by employees can result in heavy penalties. A lack of resources does not qualify as an excuse either. While shortages in PPE equipment have begun to be fixed, if masks, gloves, or other PPE equipment unavailable all vulnerable operations must be canceled. Keep in mind cloth masks are not OSHA regulated PPE but can be used to reduce the risks employees face in the workplace.
Retaining a clean and healthy workplace is paramount, but the methods and means used to do so should not be done recklessly. OSHA’s chemical standards apply to the disinfectants and cleaners you may be using to stop the spread of the virus in the dealership, but these same products can contain hazardous materials. Do your research on the cleaners you use, communicate with employees regarding any allergies that may exist, and provide PPE that can protect them from the potentially hazardous materials. It is best to find products with an EPA-approved disinfectant label. It appears contradictory that you can incur an OSHA fine for taking measures to mitigate risks to employee safety, but you must ensure those same measures don’t do as much or even more damage than the virus.
COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our industry and society, and everyone is eager to get back to selling and growing our profits as soon as possible. As we move toward recovery it is important to remain cognizant of the laws that regulate our behavior and practices. The last thing dealerships need today is a steep fine for failing to fully protect their employees. Respecting safety regulations set by OSHA will not only do that, but also provide a safe and comfortable setting for customers.