Employer Responsibilities at Workplaces during COVID-19
With the impact of COVID-19 outbreak conditions on businesses, existing OSHA standards may apply to protecting workers from exposure to and infection with COVID-19. While there is no specific OSHA standard covering COVID-19 exposure, some OSHA requirements may apply to preventing occupational exposure to COVID-19. Among the most relevant are:
(1) The OSH Act’s General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Facilities should consider a plan that outlines the steps that will be taken to reduce the risk of worker exposure to COVID-19. In addition, employers should assess the exposure risk for job classifications onsite and develop the appropriate levels of exposure controls using the hierarchy of controls, engineering, administrative/safe practice, and personal protection.
During a COVID-19 outbreak, when it may not be possible to eliminate the hazard, the most effective protection measures are (listed from most effective to least effective): engineering controls, administrative controls, safe work practices (a type of administrative control), and PPE. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of control measure when considering the ease of implementation, effectiveness, and cost. In most cases, a combination of control measures will be necessary to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19.
(2) Per the OSHA Personal Protective Equipment Standard (29 CFR 1910.132), employers are obligated to provide their workers with PPE needed to keep them safe while performing their jobs. In particular, the use of face masks as a protective measure in the workplace is considered personal protection.
(3) The OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) applies to occupational exposure to human blood and other potentially infectious materials. The provisions of the standard offer a framework that may help control some sources of the virus, including exposures to body fluids, if applicable.
Overall, it is imperative that workplaces continue to follow OSHA standards to protect workers from exposures to COVID-19.