We continue to follow developing news on COVID-19 and its impact on employee health and workers’ compensation rules. This week, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released updated its “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19” and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a list of disinfectants to protect against the spread of coronavirus. The Way takes a closer look at workplace safety making headlines.
LEADER OF THE PACK
We begin in Washington State. Governor Jay Inslee, along with the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), changed state policy around workers’ compensation coverage for quarantined health care workers and first responders. The changes are effective immediately. L&I will provide benefits to quarantined workers if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 on the job. Quarantined workers paid by their employer need not file a workers’ compensation claim. Current L&I rules provide for workers’ compensation coverage if health care providers and first responders become sick in connection with their job duties. Workers can file a workers’ compensation claim up to two years after being exposed to a disease at work.
TRUCK DRIVIN’ WOMAN
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) submitted its Final Rule on Hours of Service to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval. The proposed rule ties the break requirement to eight hours of driving time without an interruption for at least 30 minutes. The proposed rule also modifies the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: one period of at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth and the other period of not less than two consecutive hours, either off duty or in the sleeper berth. The FMCSA also proposes a change to the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on‑duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.
Between 2009 and 2018, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified 40 foodborne outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing (STEC) E. coli infections in the U.S., each with a confirmed or suspected link to leafy greens. This week, the Food and Drug Administration released an action plan for leafy greens to help prevent and respond to foodborne illness outbreaks, especially E. coli O157:H7. The action plan includes several steps the FDA will take this year regarding prevention including: water safety through rules, education, and purification methods; prioritizing inspections and assistance; strengthening food safety specifications for buyers; and creating a voluntary public-private data trust to assist with analytical research to help with prevention.
STOP! IN THE NAME OF LOVE
Nebraska lawmakers unanimously advanced LB 1186, a measure to extend income benefits to teachers who cannot work after being assaulted while on the job. Time after time, teachers who are absent for seven or fewer days must use personal or sick leave because of the state’s waiting period. Under this bill, a school district employee who is physically injured by another person who “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury” to that employee would receive up to seven days of injury leave and be paid their usual salary for the time they are absent and unable to work as a result of the injury. We’ll see if advocates for the measure can push it across the governor’s desk.
The EPA is seeking comments on proposed changes aimed at expanding and strengthening its authority to regulate activities at industrial facilities, including motor freight transportation centers that are often exposed to stormwater runoff. Stormwater runoff may discharge pollutants into nearby bodies of water or storm sewer systems. The EPA proposes major changes in its upcoming five-year Multi-Sector General Permit for Industrial Stormwater Discharges based recommendations from organizations including National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s National Research Council, and from meeting with the regulated community and environmental group stakeholders. There will be more to come on these environmental, health, and safety rules.
YOU OUGHTA’ KNOW
A new study released by the EPA and the Environmental Working Group suggests that a dozen different polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) compounds display some of the same key characteristics of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. These substances trace their chemical roots back to the chemical originally used to make non-stick cookware, which was phased out after PFAS pollution contaminated local communities and raised environmental health concerns. The new study comes on the heels of laboratory tests, that advocates suggest, detected many of these “forever chemicals” in tap water sampled across the country and have contaminated virtually every major source of drinking water in the United States.
Making Our Way Around the Country
As the 2020 Louisiana legislative session begins, lawmakers in Baton Rouge have introduced measures to improve air monitoring around industrial facilities. The measures will lay out policies to ensure that local residents have adequate notice of dangerous incidents as they take place at nearby chemical plants. One bill in the legislative package would require industry officials to notify the government within minutes of an emergency and another would require air monitoring systems to be placed on-site in some facilities.
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar announced new rules that will let patients download their electronic health records and other health care data onto their smartphones. The HHS rules are intended to give patients a greater say in health care decisions and put an end to a long-standing practice in which some doctors and hospitals resist handing complete medical files over to patients upon demand. Many of the provisions are set to take effect in 2022. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said, “[i]n today’s digital age, our health system’s data-sharing capacity shouldn’t be mired in the Stone Age.”
Indiana Supreme Court justices clarified aspects of the statute of repose in the Hoosier State’s Products Liability Act. In Bradley A. Estabrook v. Mazak Corporation, the plaintiff was seriously injured in a workplace accident and his foot was nearly sheared off by unmanned, computer-controlled machinery installed by the defendant. The state’s high court answered a certified question from the U.S. District Court concerning the state’s statute of repose, which is 10 years after the product was first delivered to the buyer. The Indiana Supreme Court determined that the statute of repose could not be extended by a manufacturer’s post-delivery repair, refurbishment or reconstruction of a disputed product.
Back to our main story this week, and in recognition of International Women’s Day, we pause to recognize the tremendous contributions by women from the sound stage, to the main stages of our industry; and from around the globe, to right here at The Way. #EachforEqual