Puerto Rico On-Site Consultation Provides Critical Support During the Pandemic
SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, began infecting the residents of Puerto Rico in early 2020. In response to this virus, the Governor of Puerto Rico issued an Executive Order on March 12, 2020 that declared the island in a state of emergency. This order required the immediate island-wide shutdown of all non-essential businesses and government operations.
The shutdown order had an immediate impact on the Puerto Rico (PR) OSHA On-site Consultation Program’s plans for FY 2020 and 2021. All pre-scheduled consultation activities were suspended in March 2020. The Program’s attention and actions shifted towards the immediate need to provide employers with COVID-19 information, education, and safety measures for their workplaces. The PR OSHA On-Site Consultation Program issued guidelines for employers on how to develop and implement a COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan. Published in the State Department of Labor’s website in both English and Spanish, the guidelines included recommendations on physical distancing, engineering controls, personal protective equipment, sanitation, indoor air quality, training, and other topics.
An Executive Order issued in May 2020 required all employers in Puerto Rico to implement a COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan. Under the order, all employers were required to submit a copy of their COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan to the PR OSHA On-Site Consultation Program for review and approval before re-opening for business. The Program reviewed more than 30,000 COVID-19 Exposure Control Plans as of September 2021, including numerous telephone assessments and virtual visits to industries and workplaces to evaluate the plans.
For example, the PR OSHA On-Site Consultation Program worked with 33 textile facilities on the island to develop COVID-19 Exposure Control Plans, as these industries were responsible for mass-producing facemasks and other personal protective equipment used in the healthcare industry and by the public. The Program also held seven virtual conferences on COVID-19 State and federal guidelines for 381 attendees from professional associations and participants in Puerto Rico OSHA’s cooperative programs.
The PR OSHA On-site Consultation Program continues to work hand in hand with employers in the island to address these new hazards and help ensure safe and healthful working conditions for all employees.
The OSHA On-Site Consultation Program offers no-cost and confidential occupational safety and health services to small and medium-sized businesses in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards and how to fix them, provide advice for compliance with OSHA standards, train and educate workers, and assist in establishing and improving safety and health programs. On-Site Consultation services are separate from OSHA enforcement efforts and do not result in penalties or citations. To locate the OSHA On-Site Consultation program nearest you, call 800-321-OSHA (6742) or visit www.osha.gov/consultation.