As the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, continues to impact businesses around the world, all employers need to consider how to address the spread of this disease in their workplace and which actions to take to lower its impact. OSHA does provide important guidance that employers should follow for COVID-19 to ensure workplace safety. This main guidance provides recommendations for protection, as well as descriptions of health and safety standards that continue to be mandatory. Based on industrial hygiene practices and traditional infection prevention, the guidance helps employers identify the level of risk in their workplace and determine control measures to implement so employees stay safe.
There are certain steps that OSHA recommends all employers take to reduce workers’ risk of exposure to COVID-19, including:
- Creating an infection disease preparedness and response plan. Consider and address where, how, and to what sources of virus might workers be exposed, as well as individual risk factors (if certain workers are at particularly high risk). Establish contingency plans for situations that come from an outbreak event, including a reduced workforce or operations, interrupted supply chains, social distancing, and increased absenteeism. This plan should incorporate recommendations from local and state health agencies.
- Implementing basic infection prevention measures. Establish how your workplace will practice good hygiene and infection control. Encourage regular hand washing, and provide plenty of soap, water, sanitizer, and disinfectant supplies for workers. Ask workers to stay home if they are sick, and maintain routine cleaning and disinfecting of commonly-touched surfaces.
- Implementing and communicating about protections and flexibilities. As you create flexible or emergency sick leave policies for workers, make sure you are talking to them about these changes and providing access to information. Actively encourage sick employees to stay home, and do not require a healthcare provider’s note as many healthcare facilities are too busy to provide a timely note. Permit employees to stay at home so they can care for a sick family member, or for children whose daycare or school is closed. Above all, be open and flexible with employees.
On top of OSHA’s main guidance, employers may also consider OSHA’s specific website page on COVID-19, which provides information about the evolving outbreak, has links to interim guidelines, and other resources. The page also highlights specific OSHA standards, such as its PPE standard and the General Duty Clause, which may apply to worker exposure to novel coronavirus. It is also recommended to consult the CDC’s interim guidance to COVID-19. Although employers are shouldering a lot of responsibility and it can be difficult to determine the actions to take in your workplace, there are a variety of resources available to help.
- What are the CDC recommendations for workplaces and COVID-19?
- What guidance has been published for employers during the COVID-19 outbreak?
- Do workplaces need an exposure control plan specific to COVID-19?
- What administrative controls can I use to reduce transmission of illnesses?
- What OSHA standards apply to reopening facilities?
- Do employers have a duty to prevent worker exposure to COVID-19 infection?
- How can transmission of COVID-19 between employees be reduced?
- How can employers support employees to practice social distancing?