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Cal/OSHA emergency COVID-19 safety standards presumed to apply to dental practices

Employers required to record and track COVID-19 cases, develop written prevention program

December 02, 2020 10982

Quick Summary:

CDA is working closely with Cal/OSHA officials to determine whether dental offices that operate under the more stringent airborne transmissible disease standard are exempt from the new temporary regulations. For now, CDA recommends that practice owners adhere to the requirements outlined below.

Emergency regulations on COVID-19 infection prevention from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health took effect Nov. 30, and most California employers must now comply with the new, temporary COVID-19 workplace safety standards, including the requirement to develop and implement a written COVID-19 prevention program.

“As emergency standards, these regulations become effective immediately,” a Department of Industrial Relations Dec. 1 news release stated.

CDA is working closely with Cal/OSHA officials to determine whether dental offices that operate under the more stringent airborne transmissible disease standard are exempt from the new temporary regulations. Until Cal/OSHA makes that determination, and because the emergency regulations took effect immediately without a grace period for compliance, CDA recommends that practice owners adhere to the following new requirements:

1. Develop, implement and maintain a written COVID-19 prevention program that:

  • Includes a policy for accommodating employees with medical or other conditions that put them at increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness.
  • Identifies and evaluates employee exposures to COVID-19 health hazards and implements policies and procedures to correct unsafe and unhealthy conditions.
  • Provides employees with training on COVID-19 infection prevention techniques and information about COVID-19 benefits that affected employees may be entitled to.

In lieu of developing a new prevention program, employers may ensure the new required elements are added to their existing injury and illness prevention program. CDA has updated its COVID-19 addendum to the IIPP to include the new required elements. 

2. Record and track all employee COVID-19 cases, regardless of whether employees were exposed in the dental practice.

CDA’s Clinical Care Workgroup developed COVID-19-positive tracking forms that practice owners can use for employees and patients.

Employers will need to ensure that individual identifying information about COVID-19 cases and exposure is kept confidential. The tracking information must be made available to employees or authorized employee representatives but with personal identifying information removed.

Should a COVID-19 employee death or serious illness requiring inpatient hospitalization occur, the employer must report the event immediately to Cal/OSHA.

3. Maintain employees’ earnings and other employee rights and benefits during times employees are not permitted to work because of a close-contact exposure at work. 

Employers can satisfy this requirement by using sick leave benefits paid under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, employer-provided vacation or paid-time-off benefits and other available payments from public sources. The FFCRA remains in effect until Dec. 31, unless extended, and eligible employees should be paid first under that act. (Wages paid under the FFCRA are reimbursable through payroll tax credits.) Employers cannot require the use of available California or local paid sick leave to maintain wages.

4. Maintain employees’ earnings and other employee rights and benefits during times employees are required to self-quarantine if they test positive for or are diagnosed with COVID-19 due to an exposure at work.

Employers must make up the difference in eligible benefits not covered by workers’ compensation.

Employer actions required during COVID-19 outbreaks

Three or more cases in a workplace in a 14-day period constitutes an outbreak. Employers cannot require employees to submit a negative COVID-19 test in order to return to work; however, employers must take the following actions should a COVID-19 outbreak or multiple COVID-19 infections occur at the work site:

  • Offer COVID-19 testing at no cost to their employees who had potential COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. The testing must be offered during employees’ working hours.
  • Contact their local health department no more than 48 hours after learning of three or more COVID-19-positive cases to obtain guidance on preventing the further spread of COVID-19 at the work site.
  • Exclude COVID-19-positive employees from the workplace and investigate and determine workplace-related factors that contributed to the COVID-19 infections.

The DIR’s Dec. 1 news release stated that enforcement investigators will take into consideration employers’ “good faith efforts to implement the emergency standards,” but also emphasized that eliminating hazards and implementing testing requirements during outbreaks is essential.

CDA therefore recommends that dentists document any efforts to comply with the new emergency standards, which are set to expire Oct. 2, 2021, but may be renewed. 

Employers may want to read the DIR’s COVID-19 emergency temporary standards FAQ covering scope of coverage, employee communications, employee training details and more.  

CDA will share more updates with members as they become available, including confirmation about the regulations’ application to dental practices and the availability of new CDA resources to help dental practices comply with the emergency regulations.