OSHA Tells Employers to Prepare for Coronavirus Outbreak

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued guidance on preparing workplaces for a COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. The guidance breaks down risk categories and recommendations on how employers can reduce workers’ risk of exposure. 

*We’re continuing to report on OSHA’s response to COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by a novel Coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

The new guidance divides employers into four risk categories including low exposure, medium exposure, high exposure, and very high exposure. Each category has corresponding recommendations for engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protection equipment to keep employees from contracting the virus. 

 

Related: Employer Responsibility for Coronavirus

 

OSHA is urging employers to follow the guidance and prepare immediately for a potential coronavirus outbreak. Failing to prepare may leave employers without adequate resources or trained employees during a quickly moving outbreak. 

 

How to Protect Employees During The Coronavirus Outbreak

 

Read the chart below to determine how to best protect employees: 

Risk Category Very High Exposure High Exposure Medium Exposure Low Exposure
Employers Covered

Healthcare workers performing aerosol-generating procedures

 

Laboratory personnel collecting or handling specimens from known or suspected COVID-19 patients

Morgue workers performing autopsies on bodies of persons known or suspected of having COVID-19

All other healthcare workers exposed to known or suspected COVID-19 patients

 

Paramedics/EMTs who are moving known or suspected COVID-19 patients

Mortuary workers preparing bodies of persons known or suspected of having COVID-19

Workers whose jobs include frequent or close (within 6 feet) contact with other persons, and others who work in high-population density work environments All other workers
Engineering Controls

Ensure proper air-handling systems are installed and maintained in healthcare facilities—follow CDC recommendations

Place patients with known/suspected COVID-19 in airborne infection isolation room

Use isolation rooms for performing aerosol-generating procedures on patients with known/suspected COVID-19

Follow CDC guidance on postmortem activities

Use Biosafety Level 3 special precautions when handling specimens from known/suspected COVID-19 patients

Same as Very High Exposure Install physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards No additional controls recommended
Administrative Controls

Develop and implement policies that reduce exposure

Post signs requesting patients and family members immediately report symptoms of respiratory illness on arrival at healthcare facility

Request known/suspected COVID-19 patients use face masks

Consider offering enhanced medical monitoring of workers during COVID-19 outbreaks

Provide job-specific training on COVID-10 prevention

Ensure psychological and behavioral support is available to address employee stress

Same as Very High Exposure

Inform customers about COVID-19 and ask sick customers to minimize contact with workers

 

Limit customer/public access to worksite

Consider strategies to minimize face-to-face contact

Communicate availability of medical screening

Monitor CDC COVID-19 website and public health communications
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) “Likely need” gloves, gown, face mask, and/or face shield or goggles Same as Very High Exposure “May need” some combination of gloves, gown, face mask, and/or face shield or goggles Not recommended

 

These recommendations are in line with guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for business and employers. OSHA also included recommended steps that all employers can take: 

  • Developing an infectious disease prevention and response plan 
  • Staying aware of guidance from federal, state, local, tribal, and/or territorial health agencies 
  • Using social distancing: stagger work shifts, downsize operations, deliver services remotely, and use other measures such as telecommuting to reduce exposure 
  • Cross-training workers to continue operations in the event of large scale employee absences
  • Encouraging proper hygiene etiquette such as frequent and thorough hand washing, and developing policies and procedures for promptly identifying and isolating sick employees 

 

OSHA is encouraging employers to, when possible, implement flexible sick leave policies, permit employees to stay at home with a sick family member, and to not require a health provider’s note for those sick with acute respiratory symptoms. 

 

Related: OSHA Addresses Coronavirus & Employee Exposure

 

While there is no standard that specifically covers COVID-19 exposures, the General Duty Clause still applies to the coronavirus outbreak.

Under OSHA’s statute, employers are required to ensure that on-the-job conditions are free of serious hazards that can cause death, illness, or injury. The bloodborne pathogens and personal protective equipment standards also apply in certain circumstances.

 

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