Reopening Your Workplace Series, Issue 1 – Donnelly + Gross
Covid-19: OSHA and Safety In The Workplace
The General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 requires employers to furnish each worker a place of employment “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” Since Covid-19 swept across the United States earlier this year, our firm has been fielding a steady flow of questions from employers asking for advice and guidance related to how they might comply with OSHA guidelines and standards as it relates to Covid-19.
Who Should Report to Work?
To some degree, protecting employees from Covid-19 in the workplace is a numbers game. The fewer employees physically present in the workplace the fewer employees to protect and easier it will be to protect employees from exposure. To the extent that employers can reduce the number of employees physically present by allowing those employees that can work from home to do so, the better.
Educate and Screen Your Employees
For those employees who must physically be present in the workplace, employers should educate their employees about the symptoms of Covid-19 (fever, cough and/or shortness of breath, muscle pain, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, etc.) and require (not recommend) that they stay away from the workplace if they are sick or are symptomatic. Many employers are also taking the step to screen employees daily as they report for work by asking them to confirm that they are not experiencing any of the known symptoms and by taking their temperatures to confirm they are afebrile before allowing them to enter the workplace.
Maintain Infection Control Measures
Employers should also adopt written basic infection control measures and should educate their employees about these measures. These measures should include frequent handwashing by employees with soap and running water if at all possible. Employers may need to alter the workplace to create the ability for all employees to comply with the handwashing requirement. Where soap and running water are not practical, employers should provide alcohol-based hand solutions that contain a minimum of 60% alcohol.
The employer’s policies should also encourage respiratory etiquette including covering coughs and sneezes. Where possible, workplaces should be structured or organized in such a way as to create as much physical space between employees as possible. For employees who are mobile during the workday, policies should require 6 feet of social distancing.
Routinely Clean and Disinfect Your Workplace
Employers should review their housekeeping and facility maintenance programs to ensure that workspaces are being regularly cleaned with solutions/products containing EPA-approved disinfectants.
Require Self-Reporting of Symptoms
Employees should be required to self-report if they develop any symptoms or otherwise become sick while at work. Once identified, these symptomatic employees should be moved to a workplace location away from other workers until the best course of action for getting them appropriate treatment can be determined. Any employee becoming symptomatic while at work should be required to wear a mask and to maintain isolation away from other employees while they remain at the workplace. Employees should leave the workplace as soon as possible—to return home or seek medical care, depending on the severity of the illness.
Evaluate Risk of Exposure and Consider PPE
Recommendations for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, goggles, face shields, face masks and respiratory protection for specific occupations or job tasks may evolve based on updated information on risk assessment and effectiveness of PPE in preventing the spread of Covid-19. OSHA has recently issued a series of industry-specific guidance such as for construction workers, retail workers and package delivery workers all of which include allowing workers to wear masks over their noses and mouth to prevent the spread of the virus. Industry specific guidance and other OSHA news and updates can be found at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/news_updates.html
Where the employee’s work involves regular contact with customers or other people from outside the workplace, employers should take measures to implement policies to protect those employees as much as possible. Employers should also communicate with vendors and suppliers they regularly work with to ensure that similar measures are being taken with their employees.
Regularly Consult OSHA and Public Authorities
Where enforcement of OSHA regulations during this pandemic is concerned, OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officers have been instructed to evaluate whether the employer has “made good faith efforts to comply with applicable OSHA standards” in making decisions regarding citations and enforcement. Regularly consulting OSHA, CDC and other public health authorities as well as state and local guidelines for updates is a necessary step towards insuring a safe workplace and compliance.
More information is available from OSHA https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf
DONNELLY + GROSS