OSHA Guidelines on Hurricane Preparedness and Response

Summer has ended and we now enter that wonderful time of year when evening shadows dawdle, and dawn hesitates on the horizon a bit longer each morning.  Even as the days begin to shorten and the breeze brandishes a hint of cool, hurricane season persists.  The last day of hurricane season 2021 is not until November 30th.  We are 127 days into this season with 21 named storms so far, averaging 1 storm every 6.05 days; and we have 55 days yet to go!   

That being said, I felt it valuable to share the following hurricane preparedness and response guidelines from OSHA.  Full content from OSHA on this topic can be found at https://www.osha.gov/hurricane.

Hurricanes are a form of tropical cyclones that are capable of causing devastating damage to communities. Hurricanes are storm systems with circulating air and sustained wind speeds of 74 miles per hour or higher. The strongest hurricanes can have wind speeds exceeding 155 miles per hour. Areas on the Atlantic Coast, near the Gulf of Mexico, as well as parts of the Southwestern United States are vulnerable to hurricanes. The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June to November and peaks between August and October. The Eastern Pacific hurricane season begins mid May and also ends in November. This page provides information on hurricane warnings, hazards that hurricanes cause, and precautions that workers and employers should take after a hurricane has occurred.

The Preparedness page outlines the warnings and watches used for hurricanes, including the five categories used to rate the strength of a hurricane. The page also contains information on creating evacuation plans and supply kits.

The Response/Recovery page features a link to OSHA’s Hurricane eMatrix, which features information on hazard exposures and risk assessments for hurricane response and recovery work. The information in the matrix is organized based on the types of activities performed so that it is easy for workers to identify the precautions they should take based on the tasks they will be performing.

OSHA and NOAA are working together on a public education effort aimed at improving the way people prepare for and respond to severe weather. This page is designed to help businesses and their workers prepare for hurricanes, and to provide information about hazards that workers may face during and after a hurricane.

Employer Responsibilities

Each employer is responsible for the safety and health of its workers and for providing a safe and healthful workplace for its workers. Employers are required to protect workers from the anticipated hazards associated with the response and recovery operations that workers are likely to conduct. For additional information on Workers’ Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA’s Employers PageWorkers Page and Publications.

OSHA Will Not Amend its COVID-19 ETS Despite CDC Guidance

OSHA recently determined it will not be making changes to the healthcare emergency temporary standard (ETS) after reviewing the latest guidance, science and data on COVID-19, and the recently updated CDC face mask guidance. However, OSHA will continue to monitor and assess the need for changes monthly.

OSHA determined that neither the CDC’s guidance on health care settings nor the underlying science and data on COVID-19 in health care settings has materially changed in a way to necessitate changes in the June 10, 2021 ETS.

Revised CDC Guidance

The CDC recently announced updates to its face mask guidelines, recommending that fully vaccinated individuals should wear a mask in public, indoor settings in areas where there is high or substantial COVID-19 transmission, including of the new coronavirus delta variant. Prior to this update, the CDC guidance allowed fully vaccinated individuals to stop wearing a mask in most settings.

OSHA’s Healthcare ETS

Since OSHA has not changed its requirements for the healthcare ETS, the face mask exceptions under the standard still apply. The healthcare ETS covers employers in various health care industries, such as hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, emergency responders, home health workers and employees in ambulatory care settings where suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are treated.

Next Steps

Health care employers should continue to monitor the OSHA website for updates on how changes in COVID-19 transmission affect agency policy and guidance. OSHA will continue to assess the need for changes monthly.

ETS Face Mask Exceptions:

Employees are not required under the healthcare ETS to wear face masks when:

  • They are alone in a room;
  • They are eating & drinking;
  • It is important to see a person’s mouth while communicating;
  • Employees are unable to wear face masks due to a medical necessity or condition; or
  • Use of a face mask presents a hazard to an employee of serious death or injury.