OSHA Provides Guidance on Coronavirus in the Workplace

Washing hands

On March 9, OSHA published “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19,” as a way to help companies respond in the event of coronavirus in the workplace. The guidance was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The document provides practical guidance for preventing the spread of COVID-19, and it contains information on safe work practices and appropriate personal protective equipment based on the risk level of exposure.

“This guidance outlines practical ways that employers and workers can address potential health risk from the coronavirus in their workplaces,” said Loren Sweatt, principal deputy assistant secretary for occupational safety and health.

The booklet, which is available for free download, notes, “To reduce the impact of COVID-19 outbreak conditions on businesses, workers, customers, and the public, it is important for all employers to plan now for COVID-19. For employers who have already planned for influenza pandemics, planning for COVID-19 may involve updating plans to address the specific exposure risks, sources of exposure, routes of transmission, and other unique characteristics of SARS-Co-V-2 (i.e., compared to pandemic influenza viruses).”

The booklet goes on to say that employers unprepared for pandemic events should prepare themselves and their workers as far in advance as possible of potentially worsening outbreak conditions.

OSHA created these guides based on common infection prevention and good hygiene practices. It could affect workplaces because of various reasons for absenteeism, changing commerce patterns and irregular or interrupted supplies or deliveries. OSHA also encourages employers to develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan, and the best way to do this is ensuring information is current from local, state and federal sources.

“Lack of continuity planning can result in a cascade of failures as employers attempt to address challenges of COVID-19 with insufficient resources and workers who might not be adequately trained for jobs they may have to perform under pandemic conditions,” the booklet stated.

There are a number of relevant chapters in the 32-page booklet, including:

  • About COVID-19
  • How a COVID-19 Outbreak Could Affect Workplaces
  • Steps All Employers Can Take to Reduce Workers’ Risk of Exposure to SARS-CoV-2
  • Classifying Worker Exposure to SARS-CoV-2
  • Jobs Classified at Low Exposure Risk (Caution): What to Do to Protect Workers
  • Jobs Classified at Medium Exposure Risk: What to Do to Protect Workers
  • Jobs Classified at High or Very High Exposure Risk: What to Do to Protect Workers
  • Workers Living Abroad or Traveling International

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