by Brianna Crandall — May 1, 2020 — The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has taken numerous steps in recent weeks to help U.S. workplaces prevent exposure to the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), and to deal with workplace changes and closures during the pandemic shutdowns.
Guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19
FMLink covered this guidance on preparing and responding to coronavirus in the workplace in a March 23 story. Developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), the document provides practical guidance for preventing the spread of COVID-19, and contains information on safe work practices and appropriate personal protective equipment based on the risk level of exposure. It includes steps employers can take to protect workers, job-specific examples, OSHA services, travel trips and suggestions for workers.
Worker exposure risk chart
In the Guidance document above, OSHA created an occupational risk pyramid to classify the risk of worker exposure to the coronavirus according to industry and job tasks. This chart simplifies the explanation and serves as an easy tool to send to workers working remotely on site, or for displaying at worksites and offices. The chart helps display a critical level of transparency and proactiveness responding to the current worker desire for communication.
OSHA divided job tasks into four risk exposure levels. Most American workers will likely fall in the lower exposure risk (caution) or medium exposure risk levels. Jobs with a very high potential risk includes those exposed to known or suspected sources of COVID-19 during specific medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures, such as healthcare and morgue workers performing aerosol-generating procedures on or collecting/handling specimens from potentially infectious patients or bodies.
Poster to reduce workplace exposure to the coronavirus
OSHA’s new poster lists steps all workplaces can take to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus. The poster highlights 10 infection prevention measures every employer can implement to protect workers’ safety and health during the coronavirus pandemic.
Safety measures include:
- Encouraging sick workers to stay home;
- Establishing flexible worksites and staggered work shifts;
- Discouraging workers from using other workers’ phones, desks and other work equipment; and
- Using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved cleaning chemicals with label claims against the coronavirus.
Guidance for specific industries
OSHA has also released guidance to keep workers in various specific industries safe during the coronavirus pandemic, available in English and Spanish. The industries addressed so far include: construction, manufacturing, meatpacking and processing, package delivery and retail.
As an example, OSHA lists safety measures employers can implement to protect employees working in manufacturing as including:
- Practicing sensible social distancing and maintaining 6 feet between co-workers, where possible;
- Establishing flexible work hours, (e.g., staggered shifts), if feasible;
- Training workers on how to properly put on, use/wear, take off and maintain protective clothing and equipment;
- Allowing workers to wear masks over their nose and mouth to prevent spread of the virus;
- Monitoring public health communications about coronavirus recommendations for the workplace and ensuring that workers have access to and understand that information;
- Promoting personal hygiene. If workers do not have access to soap and water for handwashing, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol. Provide disinfectants and disposable towels workers can use to clean work surfaces; and
- Encouraging workers to report any safety and health concerns.
Enforcement and compliance updates
OSHA has also issued interim guidance to advise compliance safety and health officers to evaluate an employer’s good faith efforts to comply with safety and health standards during the coronavirus pandemic, and issued interim guidance for enforcing OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements (29 CFR Part 1904) as it relates to recording cases of COVID-19.
In order to help protect workers normally required to wear N95s or other filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) while there is a supply shortage, OSHA is temporarily expanding the types of respirators allowed for use, and offering guidance on prioritizing the use of available respirators, and how to safely clean and reuse them if necessary.