The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is the U.S. national health protection agency. The CDC protects America from health, safety, and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S., whether the diseases start at home or abroad.
Conversely, the Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) Act of 1970 requires employers to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women” through the enforcement of standards developed under the Act. OSHA regulates all workplaces with ten or more employees (and provides partial oversite for workplaces with less than ten employees).
To be clear, there are no OSHA standards for workplace compliance concerning COVID-19 caused by the SARS-CoVo2 virus. However, OSHA has a general duty clause to protect workers/employees where standards do not exist. The General Duty Clause, Section 5 (a)(1), requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
Protecting all worker/employee’s health is extremely critical during this COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. public health and worker health are wholly intertwined. As states and municipalities began to establish plans to re-open businesses and companies, a significant collaboration between occupational health, safety, and medical professionals, with public health officials will be crucial to helping companies establish plans and rules of engagement. Everyone must do their part to ensure the protection of public health, which includes workplaces.
OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 can help. The 32-page guidance document does not create new legal obligations, but it does help employers plan and prepare workplaces during and after the COVID-19 quarantine. The document also references the Center for Disease Control (CDC) applicable requirements and additional guidance.
The document begins with the recommendation that employers develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan that will:
- Determine the level and type of risk for your employers.
- What available personal protection equipment (PPE) is needed?
- Can social distancing be practiced?
- Determine methods to implement necessary infection prevention measures, establish effective hygiene and sanitation procedures.
- What will be your new practice for employees and visitors coming into the workplace?
- Develop procedures and policies for immediate identification of sick persons (as appropriate)
- How do you ensure employees report their exposure?
- Determine if and how your company can stagger employees and if your company can augment employees’ schedules if they are unable to come to work due to COVID 19 exposure or symptoms.
The OSHA guidance document breaks down employees’ risk into four categories:
- Very High Exposure Risk jobs are those with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID 19 during specific medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures where aerosol-generating procedures can occur, collecting and handling specimens from known COVID-19 patients, etc.
- High Exposure Risk jobs are those with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID 19 (healthcare staff who enters a patient room, medical transport, mortuary workers involved in preparing.
- Medium Exposure Risk jobs are those that require frequent and close contact (i.e.) within 6 ft of people who may be infected with SARS-CoV-2, but who are not known of suspected COVID-19 patients. Workers in this category may have contact with the general public. (e.g., Schools, high population density work environments, high volume retail settings, public transportation)
- Lower Exposure Risk (caution) jobs that do not require contact with people known to be or suspected of being infected with SARS-CoV-2 nor frequent close contact with the general public or other workers/employees.
All health care employees, first responders, fire and police personnel, and other essential employees certainly fit in the top 2 categories.
However, many companies will need to prepare for protecting employees in the medium exposure risk category. This risk level includes:
- Employees that are not known or suspected COVID-19 patients,
- Potential asymptomatic employees
- Frequent and close contact – less than 6 ft of others, where you cannot practice social-distancing
The guidance document provides an outline on pages 21-22 “What to Do to Protect Workers” classified as medium risk. I encourage reading and understanding its implications and impact.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to your organization/company establishing the best methodologies to ensure protection for your employees. However, we do know, as the country exits quarantine, protecting the health and safety of your employees is imperative to protecting the public health of the country. Protecting the health and safety of your employees now will create long-term sustainability and growth for your organization’s future.
Lastly, the document provides additional OSHA Assistance, Services, and Programs on pages 27 -29. as a federal government agency, OSHA is there to help and protect you and your employees.
Reference: OSHA – Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19; (OSHA 3990-0302020) https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf