On March 9, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issued new guidance for employers to aid in the prevention of employee exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, which can be found here.
After first briefly summarizing the symptoms of COVID-19 (including but not limited to fever, cough, headache, and shortness of breath) and transmission methods (currently understood to be through person-to-person contact and respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes), OSHA reminded employers of its General Duty Clause, 29 U.S.C. § 654 (a)(1), which requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
While recognizing it may not be possible to eliminate a COVID-19 outbreak hazard and acknowledging that no specific OSHA standard governs occupational exposure to the coronavirus, OSHA’s guidance outlines a number of recommendations for reducing coronavirus exposure in the workplace. The Guidance directs employers to “plan now for COVID-19” and states that “[e]mployers who have not prepared for pandemic events should prepare themselves and their workers.” OSHA’s advice to employers includes the following:
- Implementing and encouraging best practices for minimizing the spread of COVID-19, including:
- Encouraging sick employees to stay home
- Minimizing or eliminating non-essential travel
- Provide tissues, handwashing or sanitizing stations for employees and visitors
- Recommend employees take personal measures to prevent exposure, such as frequent hand washing.
- Minimizing contact between employees, clients and customers when possible; and
- Considering alternative work arrangements including flexible work schedules, work from home, and staggered shifts to reduce the number of employees physically present in the workplace.
- Evaluating the risk of exposure, based on an employer’s particular industry, workplace setting, and work task
- Developing an infectious disease preparedness and response plan, and policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of sick employees; and
- Selecting, implementing, and ensure employees use workplace controls (engineering, administrative, and personal protective equipment) to prevent exposure, including physical barriers to control the spread of the virus; air filters; social distancing; and appropriate PPE, hygiene, and cleaning supplies (which may include respirators accompanied by appropriate training on fit, wear, use, removal, and cleaning).
Throughout the guidance, OSHA also repeatedly emphasized the importance of staying up to date on fact-based information from other governmental sources, including guidance issued by the Center for Disease Control.