OSHA Releases Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, businesses are scrambling – many struggling with how to continue functioning in the age of COVID-19. However, those that are fortunate enough to stay open and functional now find themselves facing new health concerns for their employees. Therefore, in accordance with the Department of Labor and Department of Health & Human Services, OSHA recently released a guidance document, OSHA 3990-032020, which contains recommendations as well as descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards. These are not new legal obligations; they are recommendations and advisory in nature intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthy workplace now and when employees return to work in full force.
In compliance with existing, safety and health standards, OSHA recommends certain steps all employers can take to reduce workers’ risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the workplace:
- Develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan;
- Prepare to implement basic infection prevention measures (e.g. hand washing, stay at home if sick, respiratory etiquette – covering coughs and sneezes);
- Develop policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of sick people, if appropriate;
- Develop, implement and communicate about workplace flexibilities and protections (do not require health care provider’s note for sick employees, implement flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for children and sick family member);
- Implement workplace controls
- Engineering controls such as installing high efficiency air filters, increasing ventilation rates and installing physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards;
- Administrative controls – Urging sick workers to stay at home, establishing alternative days or extra shifts, minimizing contact among workers, clients and customers;
iii. Safe work practices – Provide resources that promote personal hygiene such as tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap;
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) – Provide gloves, goggles, face shields, masks and respiratory protection, which are selected and based upon the potential hazards to the worker.
- Follow existing OSHA standards – These standards may apply to protect workers from exposure to an infection with SARS-CoV-2, although OSHA notes in its guidance document that there is no specific OSHA standard covering this exposure.
- Classifying OSHA exposure to SARS-CoV-2 – Workers’ risk of occupational exposure to the virus during an outbreak may vary from very high (health care workers) to high (health care delivery and support staff, and medical transport workers), medium (workers in contact with general public, schools, retail settings), or lower (caution) (workers with minimum occupational contact with the public or co-workers) risk. The level of risk depends in part on the industry type. To help employers determine the appropriate precaution, OSHA has divided job tasks into the above noted four risk exposure levels, with most American workers likely to fall in the lower exposure risks (caution) or medium exposure risk level.
OSHA recommends that federal, state and local government agencies are the best source of information in the event of an infectious disease outbreak and suggests the following websites for access the most current and accurate information. For more information and to read the full document, visit OSHA’s website: www.osha.gov.