By: Senior Counsel Camille Stearns Miller
“If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.” – Olympian Mark Spitz
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released its Guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19. Employers should use the planning guidance to identify risks levels in the workplace and determine appropriate control measures to implement. Employers must routinely check for updates from OSHA and the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) for additional safety measures.
Step 1: Develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan
- Determine what sources of COVID-19 workers might be exposed, including: (1) the general public, customers, and coworkers; and (2) sick individuals or those at particularly high risk of infection.
- Non-occupational risk factors at home and in the area.
- Workers’ individual risk factors (e.g., older age; presence of chronic medical conditions or pregnancy).
- Controls necessary to address those risks.
Step 2: Prepare to Implement Basic Infection Prevention Measures
- Promote frequent and thorough hand washing, including providing alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
- Provide customers and public with tissues and trash cans.
- Consider implementing flexible worksites, work hours and telework to increase physical distance among employees.
- Discourage workers from sharing equipment.
- Maintain routine cleaning and disinfecting the office.
Step 3: Develop Plan for Prompt Identification and Isolation of Sick People
- 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.
- Develop policies and procedures to immediately isolate people who have signs and/or symptoms of COVID-19, and train workers to implement them. Move potentially infectious people to a designated location with closable doors away from workers, customers, and other visitors.
- Provide a face mask, if available, and ask people to wear it who may have COVID-19.
Step 4: Prepare for Workplace Flexibilities and Protections
- Encourage sick employees to stay home.
- Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and tell employees about it.
- Request staffing companies to allow sick employees to stay at home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
- Be receptive to alternate methods of validation of an employee’s respiratory illness and request to return to work—i.e. email from doctor or note.
- Maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Depending upon the number of your employees, be cognizant of the provisions of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act.
- Be aware of workers’ concerns about pay, leave, safety, and other issues that may arise during the pandemic.
- Provide adequate and usable training and informational material about business-essential job functions and worker’s safety, including proper hygiene practices and the use of any workplace controls (including PPE).
- Work with insurance companies who provide employee health benefits and state and local health agencies to provide information to workers and customers about medical care in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.
Step 5: Implement Workplace Controls
The best way to control a hazard is to systematically remove it from the workplace. The most effective protection measures are as follows (listed from most effective to least effective). In most cases, a combination of measures will be needed to protect workers from COVID:
- Install high-efficient air filters.
- Increase ventilation rates in the workplace.
- Install physical barriers, such as plastic sneeze guards.
- Install a drive through window for customer service.
- Where appropriate, use specialized negative pressure ventilation.
- Encouraging sick workers to stay at home.
- Minimizing contact among workers and clients by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual communications and implementing telework.
- Establishing alternating days or extra shifts that reduce the number of employees in a facility at a time.
- Discontinuing nonessential travel.
- Developing emergency communications plans, including a forum for answering workers’ concerns.
- Providing workers with training on COVID-19 risk factors and protective behaviors.
- Training workers who need to use protecting clothing and equipment how to properly use it.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Examples of PPE include gloves, goggles, face shields and masks, and respiratory protection
- PPE must be selected based upon the hazard to the worker.
- Properly fitted and periodically refitted.
- Consistently and properly worn when required.
- Regularly inspected, maintained, and replaced.
- Properly removed, cleaned, and stored or disposed of, as applicable, to avoid contamination of self, others, or the environment
Step 6: Following Existing OSHA Standards
Existing OSHA standards may apply to protecting workers from exposure to and infection with COVID-19. While there is no specific OSHA standard covering COVID-19 exposure, some OSHA requirements may apply to preventing occupational exposure to COVID-19. Among the most relevant are:
- OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards (in general industry, 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I), which require using gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection. See: www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/ standardnumber/1910#1910_Subpart_I.
- When respirators are necessary to protect workers or where employers require respirator use, employers must implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program in accordance with the Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134). See: www.osha.gov/lawsregs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.134.
- The General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, 29 USC 654(a)(1), which requires employers to furnish to each worker “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” See: www.osha.gov/laws-regs/oshact/completeoshact.