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Workplace Safety and Health News Alert

Reopening Your Workplace - What OSHA and the CDC Recommends

April 28, 2020

By: Michael T. Cimino and Benjamin J. Wilson

States are beginning to plan ways to safely reopen their economies, and with that, businesses that closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic should plan how to reopen as well.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) and Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) have issued guidance and recommendations that should assist businesses in reopening.

OSHA’s Guidance

OSHA has issued guidance for employers on preparing workplaces during this outbreak.  The standards are not mandatory or otherwise tied to regulations. Among OSHA’s recommendations for employers and their employees are:

  • Frequent hand-washing, with soap and for at least 20 seconds;
  • Where hand-washing is not available, then using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol;
  • Avoid touching your face, including eyes, nose, or mouth; and
  • Avoid close contact with other workers where possible, also known as “social distancing.”
  • Encourage sick workers to stay home;
  • Expand regular housekeeping practices, with an emphasis on properly cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and equipment.

Especially crucial to reopening a business is risk assessment.  OSHA encourages employers to do the following:

  • Assess the hazards to which workers may be exposed, including the potential COVID-19 exposure;
  • Evaluate the risk of exposure;
  • Select, implement, and ensure workers use controls to prevent exposure, including physical barriers; social distancing; and the selection and use of personal protective equipment (“PPE”).

Workplaces should consider the use of PPE to help limit exposure.  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.  If no facemasks are available, the CDC also recommends the wearing of cloth or surgical masks, though these are not 100% effective.  

OSHA stresses that several regulations do in fact apply to preventing occupational exposure to COVID-19, including the wearing of PPE (29 CFR § 1910 Subpart I), and the General Duty Clause.  The General Duty Clause is a broad directive to employers which requires that the employer 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."

Further guidance from OSHA may be found here.

CDC Guidance

The CDC developed guidance to help decrease the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The CDC identified the following areas of focus for employers: Reducing transmission among employees; maintaining healthy business operations; and maintaining a healthy work environment. With those areas in mind, the CDC also issued the “Top 10 Tips to Protect Employees’ Health” as businesses continue or plan to restart operations. These include:

  • Encouraging sick employees to stay home;
  • Communicating with employees about their concerns;
  • Developing flexible scheduling and telework policies;
  • Communicating with companies the business partners with about policies;
  • Promoting proper etiquette and hygiene;
  • Implementing policies to minimize face-to-face contact;
  • Performing frequent environmental cleaning;
  • Providing education and training; and
  • Implementing policies and procedures for dealing with an employee who becomes sick at work.

The CDC further recommends that employers should plan to respond in a flexible way to changes in disease transmission in the community. This includes establishing policies and practices for social distancing, such as implementing flexible work-sites, flexible work hours (such as staggered shifts), teleworking, downsizing operations, or utilizing physical barriers between employees and customers, if practicable.

The CDC also provides some tips on maintaining a healthy work environment. This includes items like increasing ventilation rates or increasing the percentage of outdoor air that circulates into the building ventilation system. Of course, the CDC also recommends supporting and encouraging respiratory etiquette, proper hand hygiene, and performing routine environmental cleaning and disinfection.

Along with this planning, employers should coordinate with state and local health officials so that their business can respond appropriately.  Further CDC guidance may be found here. For more information on COVID-19 and OSHA’s standards and requirements, contact a member of Jackson Kelly’s Workplace Safety and Health Team. Further, Jackson Kelly has compiled comprehensive guidance for handling a myriad of issues presented by COVID-19. That guidance may be found here.


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