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COVID-19: OSHA Publishes Guidance On Preparing Workplaces

March 19, 2020

Overview

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (federal OSHA) recently published “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19” to help companies respond in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace. While Oregon and Washington both administer their own safety and health plans, those state agencies have not yet adopted formal guidance for employers with respect to COVID-19. Employers should rely on the federal OSHA guidance because both states have similar rules as federal OSHA when it comes to the hazards associated with infectious disease.

Employers are encouraged to read the entire document. Below are a few key takeaways that I believe all employers in Oregon and Washington can benefit from:

  • Review and/or create an infectious disease preparedness and response plan so that employees and management understand potential risks and the controls in place to address those risks, if necessary.
  • Most employers are probably already implementing basic infection prevention measures such as promoting hand washing, encouraging workers to stay home if they are sick, and performing regular housekeeping practices. However, employers should implement additional practices, such as encouraging employees to not share equipment, if possible, and if not possible, directing employees to properly disinfect equipment before another person uses it.
  • Develop policies for identifying and isolating people with signs and/or symptoms of COVID-19 and train workers to implement them.
  • Recognize that workers with ill family members may need to stay home to care for them.
  • Implement workplace controls to reduce employees’ exposure to COVID-19. This includes engineering controls (e.g., installing high-efficiency air filters), administrative controls (e.g., establishing alternating days or shifts), and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (e.g., gloves, goggles, face masks, etc.).

It is important to note that the published guidance from federal OSHA is not a standard or regulation and imposes no new obligations on employers with respect to COVID-19. However, there are existing standards that may apply depending on the particular industry and circumstances. Those include:

  • OSHA’s PPE standards (in general industry, 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I), which require using gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection.
  • The General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, 29 USC 654(a)(1), which requires employers to 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.”

Please visit Schwabe's COVID-19 resource page for more information.

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