OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
March 20, 2020
By Ernest B. Orsatti, Esquire
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.” While many businesses are closed in Pennsylvania due to Governor Wolf’s order, essential businesses that remain open should take care to safeguard their workplaces as much as possible. The Guidance is not a standard or regulation and creates no legal obligations. It contains recommendations as well as descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards. The recommendations in the Guidance itself are advisory in nature, informational in content and designed to assist employers in providing a safe work place. However, as noted below, employers are required to follow existing OSHA standards and OSHA’s General Duty Clause.
The OSHA COVID-19 webpage offers information specifically for workers and employers.
Steps Employers Can Take to Reduce Workers’ Risk of Exposure to Coronavirus
- Develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan
- Social distancing, staggered work shifts, downsizing operation, delivering services remotely and other exposure reducing measures.
- Options for conducting essential operations with reduced workforce.
- Prepare to Implement Basic Infection Prevention Measures
- Require frequent and thorough hand washing and sanitizing
- Encourage workers to stay home when sick.
- Encourage respiratory etiquette including covering coughs and sneezes.
- Provide workers, customers and public with tissues and trash receptacles.
- Explore flexible worksites, telecommuting, staggered shifts, etc. to increase physical distance between employees
- Discourage workers from using others workers’ phones, desks, offices, tools, etc. when possible.
- Maintain regular housekeeping practices to keep workplace surfaces disinfected.
Develop Policies and Procedures for Prompt Identification of Sick People
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home
- Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
- Do not require employees to provide health care providers’ notes for absences as they will likely to be too busy to do so.
- Recognize that employees may have to stay home to care for sick family members. See CDC guidance: cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/guidance-prevent-spread.html.
Implement Workplace Controls
Follow Existing OSHA Standards
The General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 USC Section 654 (a)(1) requires employers to furnish “employment and a place which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” See: www.osha.gov./laws-regs/oshact/completeoshact.
The OSHA COVID-19 webpage provides additional information about OSHA standards. See: www.osha.gov//SLTC/covid-19/standards.html. Where specific OSHA standards are applicable based on the nature of the work, these must be followed.
If you have questions about providing a safe workplace or how to best protect your employees, you may consult our employment attorneys online or by calling (412) 338-1100. Our attorney directory provides direct dial and email information for individual attorneys.