COMPLYING WITH OSHA AND COVID-19
March 16, 2020
For clients and friends of Jackson Kelly PLLC
Volume 16, Number 2
©2020 Jackson Kelly PLLC
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) had become a pandemic. Then, on March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a national emergency to help mobilize the response and streamline funding to assist in fighting the disease. To date, the virus has infected more than 175,000 people in 133 countries, resulting in almost 6,700 deaths. As health professionals and governments fight to stop the spread and find a cure, we are here to communicate some guidance for workplaces affected by COVID-19.
The major focus of both state and federal governments right now is limiting the spread of the virus. This is where the terms “social distancing” and “self-quarantine” come from. This guidance from Johns Hopkins helps explain these prevention measures and why they are important. However, as an employer, you may be unable to shut down your services, and you therefore need to be prepared for operating your workplace in a safe and health-conscious manner.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a virus. Symptoms typically include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. While these are the main symptoms, other non-respiratory symptoms may be present. COVID-19 spreads between close contact—within about 6 feet—and through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It may also spread on surfaces.
OSHA worked together with the Center for Disease Control to issue guidance on preparing workplaces for this outbreak. For most workplaces, protecting workers will come down to basic prevention measures. These include:
- Frequent hand washing, including providing soap and water to workers, customers, and worksite visitors;
- Providing alcohol-based hand sanitizers (containing at least 60% alcohol) if no access to soap and water;
- Encouraging sick workers to stay home;
- Promoting good general hygiene, including posting flyers about proper hand-washing and coughing or sneezing into a sleeve or tissue;
- Maintaining or even expanding regular housekeeping practices, including disinfecting surfaces and equipment;
- Discouraging “shared” equipment, when feasible, and properly cleaning and sanitizing equipment when not; and
- Examining policies and practices, including flexible worksites (telecommuting) or flexible work schedules.
Workplaces may also consider the use of PPE to help limit exposure. During this outbreak, PPE recommendations may change for occupations, job tasks, or geographic locations. As always, PPE must be selected based upon the hazard to the worker; consistently worn; properly worn; regularly inspected and maintained; and properly cleaned or disposed of to avoid contamination. If available, NIOSH-approved N95 filtering facepiece respirators or better are recommended if in close contact with a person suspected of being infected with COVID-19. Furthermore, these respirators must be used in conjunction with a comprehensive training program that includes fit-testing, training, and medical examinations.
Additionally, following OSHA’s already-existing regulations on the use of PPE may help limit the spread of the disease in the workplace. To be sure, there is no regulation governing the spread of diseases, including COVID-19. But, PPE standards require using gloves, eye protection, and face protection, where applicable. And, there is always the General Duty Clause, which requires employers to furnish “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.”
Finally, OSHA has established COVID-19 as a reportable illness when a worker is infected on the job. This includes if the worker gets sick while traveling for work or at work. Therefore, the employer will be required to prepare and file the appropriate reports with OSHA.
For more information on COVID-19 and OSHA’s standards and requirements, contact a member of Jackson Kelly’s Workplace Safety and Health Team. Additionally, Jackson Kelly’s Labor and Employment team has issued similar guidance for handling COVID-19 and what you as an employer may face with your employees. That guidance may be found here.
WORKPLACE SAFETY AND HEALTH PRACTICE GROUP
Karen L. Johnston
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