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May 07, 2020

OREGON: New COVID-19 rule for worker housing & ag operations

COVID-19Safety and Health 

On April 28, 2020, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Oregon OSHA) adopted a temporary rule to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in employer-provided housing, labor-intensive agricultural operations, and agricultural transportation. The new rule increases minimum standards for sanitation, toilet facilities, and handwashing facilities, and provides social distancing guidelines both for employer-provided housing and during day-to-day agricultural operations, including employer-provided transportation to and from worksites. The temporary rule is effective May 11, 2020, through October 25, 2020.

Covered Employers. In practice, most provisions of the rule only affect agricultural employers with labor-intensive agricultural operations, including “hand-cultivation, hand-weeding, hand-planting, and hand-harvesting” food crops and seedlings; “hand packing or sorting…on the ground, on a moving machine, or in a temporary packing shed in the field”; and “operation of vehicles or machinery…in conjunction with other hand-labor operators.” Notably, logging operations, the care and feeding of livestock, hand-labor operations in canneries and packing plants, and machine operators working entirely separately from hand-labor operations are all exempt from the provisions related to social distancing and the updated guidelines for sanitation, toilet, and handwashing facilities during operations. However, the updated housing requirements apply to all employers that provide their workers with housing (including rental housing), except for: (1) hotels and motels that house their workers on-site, as long as those facilities meet certain conditions; (2) manufactured dwelling parks (e.g., RV or fabricated home parks); and (3) manufactured homes (e.g., RVs or trailers) that are moved from site to site.

Social Distancing, Sanitation, and Notice in the Field. Covered agricultural employers must implement plans to keep workers at least six feet apart from each other, when possible, during operations and during meal or rest breaks. If it’s impossible to structure work activities to avoid such contact, you must minimize contact within six feet and implement additional appropriate sanitation and protective measures (such as cloth face coverings). The new rule states that agricultural employers must provide and pay for all protective measures under the rule, which include cloth face coverings for workers who can’t maintain six feet of distance between one another. Covered employers will also have to appoint at least one “social distancing officer,” who’s responsible for identifying and enforcing appropriate measures for social distancing and sanitation.

Generally, the new standards for sanitation, toilet favilities, and handwashing facilities build on existing requirements, with changes to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For example, sanitary toileting facilities and handwashing facilities, which were already required, must now be sanitized at least three times a day. Handwashing facilities must also include single-use towels rather than reusable towels. The rule contains other specific requirements related to sanitation, handwashing, and toilet facilities.

The rule also states that covered employers must post a notice that describes the social distancing and sanitation rules (including how they reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19) and explains how workers may file complaints on field sanitation issues. You must provide the notice in the language used by the majority of your workers. In other words, if the majority of workers speak Spanish as a primary language, you must at least post the notice in Spanish. You can download copies of the required notice from Oregon OSHA in English and Spanish.

Social Distancing in Transportation. Covered agricultural employers must implement certain disease prevention measures if they provide transportation to and from workplaces or between workplaces. Everyone in the vehicle, including the vehicle operator, must keep at least three feet of space between them, with no exceptions. The operator and any passengers must wear cloth face coverings over their nose and mouth while in the vehicle. Although the rule doesn’t specify that you must provide cloth face coverings for workers traveling in these vehicles, we recommend you do so since you’re already required to provide them to field workers. Finally, you must sanitize all high-contact surfaces such as door handles, seatbelt buckles, armrests, and steering wheels before each trip, or at least twice a day if the vehicles are used continuously. Employees who commute to and from the worksite in their own vehicles don’t have to wear cloth face coverings, but they’re taking a risk if they fail to wear the face coverings while traveling with people who don’t live in their household. You’re required to advise them of those risks and encourage them to follow procedures that are similar to what you require for the company vehicles.

Employer-Provided Housing. Covered employers (including most non-agricultural employers) who provide their workers with housing must adhere to updated guidance, including rented or leased housing, and housing managed by the employer’s representative or a housing operator. The new rule reiterates many of the existing regulations on employer-provided housing, but includes additional measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For example, the new rules reduce the ratio of toilets to occupants in labor housing. The new rule also states that beds must be separated in at least one of several ways. The new rule doesn’t require separation between employees who are members of the same family unit.

Similar to the provisions related to field operations, the housing provisions require operators of employer-provided housing (usually the employer, but possibly a third-party agent of the employer) to appoint a social distancing officer to identify and implement social distancing measures. This means maintaining six feet between workers when possible. If you’re unable to structure activities to avoid such close contact, you must minimize it and apply appropriate additional sanitation and protective steps, including requiring affected employees to use cloth face coverings. Housing operators must also sanitize high-touch areas in common use facilities at least twice a day. If the operator assigns workers to complete the cleaning, the employer has to pay workers for their time. As with the requirements for field operations, employers must foot the costs associated with implementing the new requirements.

Employers must also implement policies and procedures to identify and isolate sick occupants of employer-provided housing. The rule distinguishes between “suspect COVID-19 cases” and “confirmed COVID-19 cases,” with more stringent requirements for confirmed cases. In either instance, if such isolation isn’t possible, Oregon OSHA recommends that employers follow guidance from the Oregon Health Authority or the local public health authority.

Tips For Employers: If you’re a covered employer, read the new rule carefully. The summary above isn’t an exhaustive list (and these rules are different from rules in other states, such as the draft emergency rule for temporary worker housing in Washington, which is expected to be finalized soon). Oregon OSHA also posted a Q&A document that clarifies parts of the rule. Although you may have already implemented some of the measures required by the new rule, either as a best practice or in response to employee complaints, these requirements come with penalties for non-compliance. If you have questions or need help implementing these policies, contact your Vigilant safety professional.

This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.