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OnePoint Alert

March 23, 2020

Safety & Health Update – OSHA Guidance for COVID-19

By Weston Adams, III, Bernard F. Hawkins, Jr., Wendy Wilkie Parker

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has provided information and guidance for employers and employees regarding the coronavirus outbreak. OSHA has created a website specifically for Safety and Health Topics for COVID-19. This website provides several guidance documents just issued by OSHA and outlines existing standards that may be relevant to providing a safe workplace and responding to virus conditions.

The website includes a Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19. This Guidance includes some basic information about COVID-19 and steps that employers can take to reduce the risk of exposure. The Guidance helps employers identify risk levels in the workplace and recommends that employers take steps to implement engineering, administrative, and work practice controls and personal protective equipment (PPE), where applicable, to reduce those risks. 

In the Guidance, OSHA recommends that employers:

  • create an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan if the employer does not already have one;
  • implement basic infection procedures, including promotion of hand washing, housekeeping procedures, and flexible work schedules where possible;
  • use safe work practices, including providing hand soap, alcohol-based hand rubs, and trash cans;
  • develop policies and procedures to promptly identify and isolate sick people where appropriate;
  • effectively communicate about workplace flexibilities and protections;
  • implement workplace controls, including engineering and administrative controls; and,
  • consider the use of personal protective equipment (”PPE”) where applicable.

The Guidance provides additional information and suggestions for each recommendation. 

The OSHA website also provides information regarding the existing OSHA Standards. There is no specific OSHA standard for COVID-19, but OSHA outlines some existing standards that may be relevant, including:

  • PPE standards for the use of gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection (29 CFR 1910 Subpart I);
  • The Respiratory Protection standard when respirators are necessary to protect workers (29 CFR 1910.134); and,
  • The General Duty Clause, which requires employers to provide a workplace that is free “from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” (29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1)). 

OSHA also reminds employers to check state plans where applicable. 

Employers are likely already taking a number of the measures recommended by the OSHA website for Safety and Health Topics for COVID-19. Reviewing the website is a good way to check that appropriate measures are in place and a good way to keep up to date on any evolving guidance from OSHA as more information may become available.