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OPGA OFFICE TEMPORARILY CLOSED

The OPGA staff is now working from home in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Staff will continue to work and be responsive to needs of the membership. We are asking members to contact the office via email . We will be checking voicemail on a daily basis and if you leave a message, we will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience. We hope you are well during this temporary situation.


March 26, 2020

LATEST UPDATES ON THE COVID-19 SITUATION AND THE PROPANE INDUSTRY
 
Temporary Propane Installations for COVID-19 Response
As more states begin to address the impacts of the advancing COVID-19 disease, NPGA has been made aware of temporary facilities being erected to prepare for the increased testing, hospitalization and quarantine rates that are anticipated. As a result, these temporary facilities are installing propane tanks to fuel space heating and possibly other types of equipment.
 
Please note that from a code perspective, NFPA 58 provides the necessary requirements to make these types of installations safely. The code defines “Temporary Service” as an installation made for not more than 12 consecutive months at a given location. The 2020 edition of NFPA 58 addresses the installation of portable storage containers for temporary use (Section 6.8.5). The code also provides requirements for the temporary use of skid tanks (6.6.2) and porta-pacs (6.6.3).
 
Typical ASME containers are also allowed to be used for temporary installations as long as they comply with the requirements for appropriate separation distances from buildings. Also, the separation requirements for relief valve discharges, fill valves and fixed maximum liquid level gauges from sources of ignition will come into play as well as the requirements for regulator vent discharges.
 
Propane has a role to play in all emergency situations and its safe use will be especially important as communities respond to the COVID-19 outbreak by providing safe, isolated care facilities for people infected by the virus.  Please contact Bruce Swiecicki with questions or for additional information.
 
Department of Transportation: Enforcement Discretion and Regulatory Guidance
In response to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the need for expedient transportation of supplies and services, the federal government has published several guidance documents and enforcement discretion notices. The guidance and discretion documents are summarized below with hyperlinks to the official publications. Requirements for commercial driver licenses (CDL) and hazardous materials endorsements (HME) are also regulated at the state level, and companies should review policy decisions at the state level, as well.
 
  • Directs employers to “make a reasonable effort” to comply with DOT training and testing requirements and, if unable to comply, employers must document why the requirements were not met.
  • Maintains that training and testing requirements must still be met in order for employees to exercise related functions, “If employers are unable to conduct DOT drug and alcohol testing due to the unavailability of testing resources, the underlying modal regulations continue to apply.”
 
  • Ordinarily, failure of states to comply with CDL regulations results in withholding of federal highway funds. The FMCSA notice waives this provision for state licensing agencies that choose to extend CDLs and/or extend medical certification requirements.
 
  • Extends validity of intra- and interstate CDLs until June 30, 2020 as well as waives the requirement for a medical examination and certification with proof of valid medical certificate that expired on or after March 1, 2020.
 
  • Identifies federal CDL regulations that FMCSA will not take enforcement discretion on until June 30, 2020.
 
  • Answers common questions for drivers and motor carriers, including document verification and electronic logging device records.
 
  • Questions and answers on TSA procedures for obtaining and renewing hazardous materials endorsements, which are also subject to determinations by state authorities.
 
  • For 90 days, PHMSA will not take enforcement action on the federal requirement to conduct refresher training for hazardous material employees. PHMSA emphasizes that employers may still utilize web based, remote, or on the job training to satisfy the refresher training requirement. See DOT: Guidance on Compliance with DOT Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulations.
 
NPGA continues to seek clarity on other regulatory requirements, including CDL endorsements, requalification deadlines, etc. Information will continue to be accessible through the NPGA Member Dashboard. Please direct any regulatory questions to Sarah Reboli, NPGA Deputy Counsel, Regulatory Affairs. 
 
Use of Delivery Tickets
Per concerns from members about approaching customer homes, OPGA asked for clarification from the Ohio Department of Agriculture Weights and Measures Division on the requirements to leave delivery tickets. Weights and Measures provided the following clarification:
  • Because Ohio Revised Code 1327.56 requires the ticket to accompany the delivery, utilizing an electronic delivery ticket or taping the delivery ticket to the door of the home would both be good alternatives to knocking and hand delivering the ticket to the recipient. If those alternatives are not available, you may email a receipt per NIST Handbook 44.
 
Driver Hours of Service and Overweight Vehicle Updates
Earlier this week, the PUCO took action to extend temporary relief from the hours-of-service requirements for drivers operating commercial motor vehicles transporting consumer goods, medical supplies, gasoline, diesel, propane, heating oil and waste within the state of Ohio. PUCO grants hours-of-service relief to intrastate trucks hauling specific relief materials during state of emergency.
 
The drivers are to keep a copy of the attached notice in each vehicle affected by the relief. Download notice.
 
Additionally, if you are utilizing overweight vehicles at this time, ODOT must receive vital information from you within 24 hours of using the blanket permit. ODOT must maintain the safety and integrity of the Ohio transportation network, and ODOT needs to keep track of where overweight and oversized loads are traveling so ODOT can monitor the bridges and culverts that are bearing these extra loads. At this time, ODOT has only received the necessary information from one company about two trucks hauling extra water. Absent voluntary compliance, ODOT will have choice but to work with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and its Motor Carrier Enforcement Unit to ensure compliance through other measures.
 
If your vehicles are overweight, the OPGA respectfully requests you contact ODOT to inform them of your routes, weights, and other information ODOT requires.



March 23, 2020

FAQs ON OHIO STAY AT HOME ORDER
 
As you know, the Ohio Department of Health issued an order that all non-essential Ohio workers should remain in their homes beginning essentially March 24th through April 6th. To review the Ohio Stay at Home Order, please click here.
 
The OPGA wanted to share this FAQ document issued by the Ohio Department of Health as it relates to the Stay at Home order.
 
Please be advised, the Ohio propane industry has been deemed an essential service.This means that Ohio retail propane operations and operations of those in the propane supply chain that make it possible for the propane industry to provide its services REMAIN ESSENTIAL to the state of Ohio. This means that the OPGA and its members should continue to provide its services and propane fuel to those that rely on propane for their homes and businesses.
 
The OPGA continues to recommend that ALL OPGA members take the precautions to maintain social distancing, practicing the highest standards of hygiene, and frequently wash hands and surfaces at your workplaces. The OPGA also recommends members make adjustments to limit contact with your customers during home deliveries and at your retail operations. The OPGA recommends any members with showrooms discontinue those operations. The OPGA recommends members utilize more drop box payments and credit card payments to limit customer interaction. The OPGA also encourages all members to encourage your employees that are sick to remain at home. Above all, be smart with how you conduct yourselves, your employees and your operations during this crisis.
 
OPGA will continue to post COVID-19 updates and resources affecting Ohio's Propane Industry on this page. Check back for updates.


March 22, 2020

NON-ESSENTIAL OHIO WORKERS ORDERED TO STAY AT HOME
Propane Industry NOT Included in the Order
 
The Ohio Department of Health just issued an order that all non-essential Ohio workers should remain in their homes beginning essentially March 24th through April 6th. To review the Ohio Stay at Home Order, please click here.
 
Please be advised, the Ohio propane industry has been deemed an essential service.This means that Ohio retail propane operations and operations of those in the propane supply chain that make it possible for the propane industry to provide its services REMAIN ESSENTIAL to the state of Ohio. This means that the OPGA and its members should continue to provide its services and propane fuel to those that rely on propane for their homes and businesses.
 
The OPGA continues to recommend that ALL OPGA members take the precautions to maintain social distancing, practicing the highest standards of hygiene, and frequently wash hands and surfaces at your workplaces. The OPGA also recommends members make adjustments to limit contact with your customers during home deliveries and at your retail operations. The OPGA recommends any members with showrooms discontinue those operations. The OPGA recommends members utilize more drop box payments and credit card payments to limit customer interaction. The OPGA also encourages all members to encourage your employees that are sick to remain at home. Above all, be smart with how you conduct yourselves, your employees and your operations during this crisis.


March 19, 2020

HR 6201 – THE IMPACT TO EMPLOYERS AND EMPLOYEES

HR 6201, which will be signed by the President, would create several significant new leave and pay obligations for covered employers.

First, HR 6201 would create the “Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act” which would give eligible employees of companies with fewer than 500 employees the right to take leave from their jobs for certain qualifying needs. An eligible employee is one who has been employed by the employer for more than 30 days and who has a qualifying need related to a public health emergency. Qualifying needs are:

If an employee takes qualifying leave under the FMLA Expansion Act, the employee can take the first 14 days of leave as unpaid leave. The employee may elect to use any accrued leave instead of taking unpaid leave, but the employer cannot force any employee to take accumulated leave. After the 14 days, the employer shall provide paid leave for each additional day of qualifying leave. The payment for leave must be equal to at least 2/3 of the employee’s regular rate of pay multiplied by the number of hours the employee otherwise would have been scheduled to work. Employees are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of qualifying leave, which is in addition to leave for other reasons covered by the FMLA.

HR 6201 gives the Secretary of Labor the right to exempt employers with less than 50 employees from the leave obligation if it is determined that the obligation would “jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.” It remains to be seen whether these smaller employers would be exempted.

HR 6201 would also create the “Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act” which will require all employers under 500 employees to provide paid sick time to all employees (even new hires) for any of the following reasons:

If the employee qualifies for paid sick time, the employer must grant a full-time employee 80 hours of paid leave and must grant part-time employees the number of hours that such employee works on average over a two-week period. Employees must receive full pay for time missed due to their own health reasons, and must be paid two-thirds (2/3) for time missed to care for a family member or child.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave is in addition to any other paid leave the employee is entitled to, so for Michigan employers, that means it is in addition to leave time under the Paid Medical Leave Act. At present, we do not know whether employers could require employees to use sick leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act for the first two weeks of unpaid leave taken for a qualifying need under the FMLA Expansion Act.

Finally, among other things, HR 6201 will provide dollar-for-dollar payroll tax credits for employers to help offset the cost of paid FMLA leave and paid sick leave. It would also prohibit all group health plans, health insurance issuers and individual health insurance plans from imposing any cost-sharing requirements related to COVID-19. This would include deductibles, copayments and coinsurance.

Both the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act would become effective fifteen (15) days after signed into law by the President, and both would expire on December 31, 2020.

Provided by Warner Norcross & Judd, LLP.  If you have questions, please contact any member of Warner’s Labor and Employment Practice Group.  616-752-2000.



March 13, 2020

IMPORTANT COVID-19 MESSAGES
 
Hours of Service Waiver in Ohio
As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Ohio Propane Gas Association wanted to share a couple of important messages. The OPGA also does not want to add to any hysteria, but the OPGA also needs to do its due diligence during this challenging time.
 
First, an emergency waiver for hours of service is now in effect in Ohio. The request was largely in response to needs for retail stores. This was NOT done at the request of the OPGA. That said, the waiver is broad enough to include consumer goods, like propane, and the waiver covers long-haul drivers and bobtail drivers within the state of Ohio. Click here for hours of service relief. The waiver will also be available at ohiopropanegas.org. If you or any of your drivers utilize the exemption, the OPGA recommends having this waiver placed with each driver, in each truck.
 
COVID Suggestions from OPGA
With numerous emergency situations and recommendations in place, the OPGA wanted to pass along the following tips, questions and suggestions for all members to consider. The intent of this message is not to offend or insult any member operations. These are merely ideas for the COVID situation.
 
How Are You Handling Consumer Interaction?
  • While the propane industry by its very nature is more isolationist than other energy providers, perhaps you could encourage your drivers to limit interaction with customers.
  • Similarly, perhaps it is worth notifying your customers that your drivers will limit customer interaction more than they normally would interact with them during this challenging time.
  • Consider limiting exposure of your employees to customer homes in non-emergency situations. When in-home customer assistance is needed, remind your employees to limit customer exposure and practice sound hygiene to limit liability and exposures.
  • If you do not already have one, perhaps you could adopt a payment drop box to limit exposure to those customers that pay bills in person.
  • Encourage more customers to pay bills via credit card or online payments to limit exposure and lines in your office.
 
Low Income Assistance May Be Impacted
  • Hopefully by now, you have received most of your low income assistance payments from the state of Ohio. The OPGA certainly understands how frustrating that process has been for all of you!
  • As the COVID situation intensifies, the OPGA would like to warn you that low income assistance is likely to be impacted. The approval and payment processes are likely to be among those affected if/when work stoppages or employee absenteeism occurs.
  • While all OPGA members have already shown tremendous patience and grace when it comes to low income assistance and deliveries to low income households, the OPGA would like to ask all members to show more grace and understanding as all Ohio households grapple with this situation. 
  • If you haven’t done so already, the OPGA asks all members to think about how your company will address low income customer situations on a case-by-case basis if/when payment assistance is impacted by COVID.
 
Employee Situations
  • Obviously the flu has already impacted many OPGA members since the 2019-20 heating season started. Should employee absenteeism increase as a result of COVID, are you ready? 
  • If/when schools or daycares close as a result of COVID, are you and your employees prepared with those effects as you provide heat and energy to your customers?
 
The OPGA is proud of each and every member. The OPGA has complete confidence in each and every member and its employees and that the propane industry will shine through this crisis. Again, please take this message as simply sharing ideas and tips for you and your company to consider during this unique challenge.