Even with the vaccine rollout, businesses will still have to remain compliant with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) when it comes to protecting their workers and customers from the coronavirus. Experts expect the virus to be with us well into 2021. As a business owner, what OSHA pandemic-planning steps should you take today and going forward?
OSHA has issued workplace guidance for employers to follow during the pandemic. In addition, the agency has addressed frequently asked questions (FAQs) and provided suggestions on issues such as cloth face coverings and clean workplaces. At all times, employers are required to follow OSHA’s general duty clause, which stipulates creating and maintaining a safe and hazard-free workplace for all employees.
Here are key points from the guidelines and FAQs to protect your business and ensure you remain OSHA compliant:
Have an infectious disease preparedness and response plan – This includes measures for evaluating and controlling potential worker exposure to COVID-19. OSHA also recommends employers have a contingency plan in place for operating during a coronavirus outbreak, such as staggering shifts and operating with a reduced workforce.
Ensure basic infection prevention measures – These apply to workers, customers, and anyone visiting the workplace. Many of these measures have become second nature, such as promoting frequent handwashing, exercising social distancing, and covering your mouth when you cough. But did you know OSHA also recommends you discourage workers from using other employees’ phones, desks, offices, and equipment? The agency also suggests providing customers with tissue and trash receptacles.
When it comes to cleaning frequently touched surfaces or those in high-traffic areas, both OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend first cleaning with soap and water and then using disinfecting products that have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for fighting viral pathogens.
Enforce workplace controls– Here is where OSHA addresses engineering or physical improvements as well as personal protective equipment (PPE). From an engineering standpoint, the agency recommends installing high-efficiency air filters, improving ventilation, installing physical barriers such as plastic sneeze guards, and even adding a drive-in window for customer service.
To be OSHA compliant, employers should provide required PPE for workers to do their job in general and during the pandemic, but the type of gear required varies by industry and can include masks, other face shields, and gloves.
OSHA recommends employers encourage workers to wear face coverings when specific PPE is not required. But when it comes to cloth face coverings, OSHA notes employers have the right to permit or prohibit them and require other types of masks or face coverings. Cloth face coverings are not considered PPE, according to the agency. Depending on the work environment, cloth masks can absorb chemicals or become damp and attract infectious materials. In all cases, workers should still maintain a safe social distance of six feet from other employees and customers while wearing face coverings.
Don’t forget administrative controls–OSHA asks employers to encourage sick workers to stay home, to minimize in-person contact by utilizing Zoom and other platforms for meetings, and to continue to train and educate workers on COVID-19 hazards and protective behaviors.
While OSHA does not require employers to notify other employees of a positive case in the workplace, it does require them to take steps to keep workers safe, which would include cleaning and disinfecting the work environment. CDC notes, however, in certain situations, critical infrastructure workers who were exposed may return to work if asymptomatic and testing negative.
For the coronavirus-positive employee, current CDC guidelines state employees may discontinue isolation 10 days after onset of symptoms if they have been fever-free for 24 hours and other symptoms have improved.
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Disclaimer: The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from one of our licensed attorneys.