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HR, Employers & Coronavirus: OSHA Compliance Amid COVID-19

HR, Employers & Coronavirus: OSHA Compliance Amid COVID-19
Hendershot Cowart P.C.

The world is reeling over the coronavirus, and employers in every industry have reason to prioritize the health and safety of their employees during what’s been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), and a National Emergency by the United States President.

Although updates related to COVID-19, local and statewide closures, and public health advisories are developing as the virus surges and conditions evolve, there are some important steps employers and Human Resource departments should be taking to ensure the safety of their workforce, minimize and manage risks, and reduce the impact on business and productivity.

Here are a few quick takes on the coronavirus and OSHA compliance:

OSHA Alert

OSHA issued an alert in March – Prevent Worker Exposure to Coronavirus (COVID-19) – to inform employers and workers on general practices to prevent the spread of the virus. This includes frequent hand washing and limiting contact with people who are sick, as well as practices for employers of workers with potential occupational exposure. Per OSHA, employers should:

  • Assess the hazards to which workers may be exposed.
  • Evaluate the risk of exposure.
  • Select, implement, and ensure workers use controls to prevent exposure, including physical barriers to control the spread of the virus; social distancing; and appropriate personal protective equipment, hygiene, and cleaning supplies.

Employers can find the latest updates on managing coronavirus risks in the workplace, including a May 19 memorandum on OSHA's Interim Enforcement Response Plan for COVID-19 and revised guidance for Recording Cases of COVID-19, on the OSHA COVID-19 webpage. The CDC also provides Coronavirus information and updates for the general public.

OSHA Interim Guidance

OSHA released a March 2020 booklet with recomendations intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace – Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19. The guidance, which draws from evolving information available from the HHS and CDC, is intended to help employers plan for an outbreak, namely by encouraging employers to identify risks specific to their workplace, and determine appropriate management and control measures.

Some of the steps all employers can take to reduce workers’ exposure risks include:

  1. Creating an infectious disease preparedness and response plan to guide protective actions against Covid-19
  2. Staying up-to-date with guidance from local, state, or federal health agencies, and incorporating them into worksite-specific plans.
  3. Preparing and implementing basic infection prevention measures and guidance for employees.
  4. Creating policies and procedures for identifying and isolating potential sick employees so as to limit exposure to workers, customers, and others.
  5. Creating and issuing communication about workplace flexibilities and protections (i.e. encouraging at-home remote work, adopting flexible sick leave policies consistent with public health guidance, etc.)
  6. Implementing engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE.

OSHA states its coronavirus guidance is not a standard or regulation, and creates no legal obligations. Instead, it provides recommendations for dealing with COVID-19, and reiterates existing mandatory safety and health standards. However, employers should be aware that there may be implications for failures to adequately manage coronavirus risks, even if no specific standard exists.

In the interim guidance, OSHA also divides employers into four risk categories, and provides more specific recommendations for risk management and workplace controls. These categories include:

  • Very High Exposure Risk: Health care workers laboratory personnel and morgue workers who treat patients, handle samples, or perform autopsies with known or suspected COVID-19.
  • High Exposure Risk: Health care deliver and support staff, medical transport, mortuary workers involved in caring for known or suspected COVID-19 patients.
  • Medium Exposure Risk: All jobs which require frequent and / or close contact with known or suspected COVID-19 patients, including workers who have frequent contact with international travelers and the general public in areas with ongoing community transmission.
  • Lower Exposure Risk: Jobs that don’t require contact with known or suspected COVID-19 patients, or frequent close contact with the public or other co-workers.

Read OSHA’s COVID-19 Guidance here.

Though there are rapid developments and much to unfold, Hendershot Cowart P.C. encourages all employers to take active precautions in managing workplace risks amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Our attorneys are available to help employers with questions about OSHA compliance, workplace hazard analyses, safety plans, and related matters. Call (713) 909-7323 or contact us online.

This article was updated on November 3, 2020.

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