OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplace for COVID-19

In an effort to continue keeping clients updated about developments related to the COVID-19 epidemic, we are alerting you to the fact that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently published guidance to aid employers (and their workers) in identifying risk levels and determining appropriate control measures in the workplace in response to COVID-19.

The first few pages of the guidance are devoted to discussing the typical symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, shortness of breath), the typical manner in which it may be spread (by person-to-person through close contact or through respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing), and its effect on the workplace (through absenteeism, changes in patterns of commerce, or interrupted supply/delivery).

The bulk of the remaining guidance is devoted to suggesting basic steps that every employer can take to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 to its workers.  These steps include:

  1. Developing an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan. OSHA recommends considering certain risk factors for workers (e.g., older age or the existence of a chronic medical condition) and how they might be exposed (e.g., through close contact with customers or coworkers) and following federal, state, and local recommendations when developing the plan.

 

  1. Implementing Basic Infection Prevention Measures. OSHA recommends implementing good hygiene and infection control practices (e.g., promoting thorough and frequent handwashing, encouraging sick workers to stay at home, or allowing telecommuting or flexible work hours).

 

  1. Developing Policies and Procedures for Prompt Identification and Isolation of Sick People. OSHA recommends that employers encourage employees to self-monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, develop policies and procedures for employees to report when they are sick or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, and develop policies and procedures for immediately isolating individuals with signs and/or symptoms of COVID-19.

 

  1. Developing, Implementing and Communicating about Workplace Flexibilities and Protections. Among other things, OSHA recommends not requiring a doctor’s note for sick employees and maintaining flexible policies to allow workers to stay home to care for a sick family member.

 

  1. Implementing Workplace Controls. Depending on the risk of exposure (discussed in more detail below), OSHA recommends implementing certain protection measures such as implementing engineering (e.g., installing high-efficiency air filters or installing physical barriers such as plastic sneeze guards) or administrative controls (e.g., minimizing contact between workers or discontinuing nonessential travel), or providing personal protective Equipment (PPE), like gloves, googles, face masks, and respiratory protection) to workers.

 

  1. Following Existing OSHA Standards. While there is no specific OSHA standard covering COVID-19 exposure, OSHA lists some relevant standards that may apply (e.g., OSHA’s PPE standards).

In addition to providing basic precautionary measures, OSHA has also divided job tasks into four risk exposure levels (very high, high, medium, and lower) to assist employers in determining more specific precautionary measures:

  • Very high exposure risk jobs: those with a high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COIVD-19 during special medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures that involve aerosol generation or specimen collection/handling.

 

  • High exposure risk jobs: those with potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19. These jobs include doctors, nurses and other hospital staff who must enter patients’ rooms.

 

  • Medium exposure risk: those that require frequent and/or close contact (within six feet) with other people who may be infected with COVID-19 (e.g., schools or high-population density work environments).

 

  • Lower exposure risk jobs: those with minimal occupational contact with the public and other coworkers.

For very high and high exposure risk jobs, OSHA recommends implementing certain engineering controls (e.g., ensuring appropriate air-handling systems are installed) and administrative controls (e.g., considering offering enhanced medical monitoring of workers during COVID-19 outbreaks).

For medium exposure risk jobs, OSHA recommends installing physical barriers where feasible and offering face masks to ill employees and customers until they are able to leave the workplace (e.g., for medical evaluation/care or to return to home).

For medium, high, and very high exposure risk jobs, OSHA recommends workers wear a combination of gloves, a gown, a face mask, and/or a face shield or googles as PPE. Workers in very high exposure risk jobs are recommended to wear a face mask or respirator.

For lower exposure risk jobs, OSHA does not recommend implementing any additional engineering or administrative controls or PPE and simply suggests monitoring public health communications about COVID-19.

To read the guide in full, simply click on following link or copy and paste it into your web browser: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf

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Since legal developments pertaining to COVID-19 are constantly evolving, we recommend that our clients call the Kullman Firm attorney(s) with whom they work for the most current guidance on these matters.