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OSHA Guidance on Covid-19

On January 29, 2021, OSHA posted a helpful guide pertaining to Covid-19 in the workplace, containing recommendations as well as descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards. This guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. The full guide can be read at A few abbreviated highlights that you should know include:

  • The main function of wearing a face covering [when worn over the nose and mouth] is to protect those around you, if you are infected but not showing symptoms.

  • It is important to wear a face covering and remain physically distant from co-workers and customers even if you have been vaccinated because it is not known at this time how vaccination affects transmissibility.

OSHA requirements apply to preventing occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Among the most relevant are:

  • OSHA's Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards, which require using gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection when job hazards warrant it.

  • The General Duty Clause, which requires employers to furnish to each worker "employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm."

Recording workplace exposures to COVID-19 on the OSHA 300 log is required for covered employers

  • COVID-19 can be a recordable illness if a worker is infected as a result of performing their work-related duties. However, employers are only responsible for recording cases of COVID-19 if all of the following are true:

  1. The case is a confirmed case of COVID-19

  2. The case is work-related; and

  3. The case involves one or more of the general recording criteria set forth

This guidance from OSHA includes these 16 following elements:

1. Assignment of a workplace coordinator.

2. Identification of where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work.

3. Identification of a combination of measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, in line with the principles of the hierarchy of controls.

  • separating and sending home infected or potentially infected people;

  • implementing physical distancing in all communal work areas [includes remote work and telework];

  • installing barriers where physical distancing cannot be maintained;

  • suppressing the spread of the hazard using face coverings;

  • improving ventilation;

  • using applicable PPE to protect workers from exposure;

  • providing the supplies necessary for good hygiene practices; and

  • performing routine cleaning and disinfection.

4. Consideration of protections for workers at higher risk for severe illness through supportive policies and practices.

  • Older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Workers with disabilities may be legally entitled to "reasonable accommodations" that protect them from the risk of contracting COVID-19. Where feasible, employers should consider reasonable modifications for workers identified as high-risk who can do some or all of their work at home (part or full-time), or in less densely-occupied, better-ventilated alternate facilities or offices.

5. Establishment of a system for communicating effectively with workers and in a language they understand.

6. Educate and train workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in a language they understand.

7. Instruct workers who are infected or potentially infected to stay home and isolate or quarantine

  • Ensure that absence policies are non-punitive. Policies that encourage workers to come to work sick or when they have been exposed to COVID-19 are disfavored.

8. Minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on workers.

  • When possible, allow them to telework, work in an area isolated from others, or use paid sick leave, if available, or consider implementing paid leave policies to reduce risk for everyone at the workplace. [The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides certain employers 100% reimbursement through tax credits to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19 through March 31, 2021.]

9. Isolating workers who show symptoms at work.

10. Performing enhanced cleaning and disinfection after people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 have been in the facility.

  • [i.e. close areas, open windows and doors, vacuum, mop, disinfect surfaces, using PPE, etc.]

11. Providing guidance on screening and testing

12. Recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths.

  • Employers should also report outbreaks to health departments as required and support their contact tracing efforts.

13. Implementing protections from retaliation and setting up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards:

  • Section 11(c) of the OSH Act prohibits discharging or in any other way discriminating against an employee for engaging in various occupational safety and health activities. [i.e. raising a reasonable concern about infection control related to COVID-19, or for voluntarily providing and wearing their own PPE]

14. Making a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees.

15. Not distinguishing between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not.

  • Workers who are vaccinated must continue to follow protective measures.

16. Other applicable OSHA Standards. [i.e. PPE, respiratory protection, sanitation, protection from bloodborne pathogens, access to medical and exposure records]

Additional guidance includes:

1. Workers who have or likely have COVID-19 should be isolated until they meet CDC guidelines for exiting isolation:

a. If they think or know they had COVID-19 and had symptoms, they can return after:

  • At least 10 days since symptoms first appeared and

  • At least 24 hours with no fever without fever-reducing medication and

  • Other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving (loss of taste and smell may persist for weeks or months and need not delay the end of isolation).

b. Some workers might need to stay home and isolate longer than 10 days, as recommended by their healthcare providers, such as:

  • Worker who had severe illness from COVID-19 (admitted to a hospital and needed oxygen) might need to stay in isolation for up to 20 days after symptoms first appeared.

  • Workers who had COVID-19 or tested positive for COVID-19 and have a weakened immune system should consult with their healthcare providers.

c. Notes:

  • Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are permitted to require a doctor's note from workers to verify that they are healthy and able to return to work. But given potential delays in seeking treatment and demands on the healthcare system, requiring a COVID-19 test result or a healthcare provider's note for workers who are sick to validate their illness or return to work may cause significant delays affecting employers and workers alike.

  • A worker who has recovered from symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19 may continue to test positive for three months or more without being contagious to others. For this reason, these workers should be tested only if they develop new symptoms of possible COVID-19. If they have new symptoms, they should discuss getting tested again with their healthcare provider, especially if they have been in close contact with another person who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days. CDC reports that instances of reinfection have so far been infrequent.

  • CDC does NOT recommend that employers use antibody tests to determine which workers can work. Antibody tests check a blood sample for past infection with SARS-CoV-2, and are not very reliable. Viral tests check a respiratory sample (such as swabs of the inside of the nose) for current infection with SARS-CoV-2.

2. Workers should quarantine if they have been exposed to COVID-19, which means:

  1. They were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more within a 24-hour period, starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated, or

  2. They provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19, or

  3. They had direct physical contact with a person who has COVID-19 (hugged or kissed them), or

  4. They shared eating or drinking utensils with a person who has COVID-19, or

  5. Someone who has COVID-19 sneezed, coughed, or somehow got respiratory droplets on them.

According to DCD, quarantine means :

  • Stay home for 14 days after last contact with a person who has COVID-19,

  • Watch for fever (100.4°F), cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19, and

  • To the extent possible, stay away from others, especially people who are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.

Additional items and practices employers can provide to boost Covid-19 safety.

  • Provide tissues and no-touch trash cans.

  • Provide and maintain soap and warm or tepid water, or touchless alcohol-based hand sanitizer of at 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol, in the workplace in fixed worksites.

  • Provide workers with time to wash their hands often (for at least 20 seconds). [ie. before and after work shifts, breaks, restroom use, meal breaks, blowing nose, coughing, or sneezing, touching PPE, and/or touching surfaces touched by others.

  • Place multi-language posters that encourage hand hygiene and physical distancing to help stop the spread of COVID-19 at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.

  • Promote personal health monitoring and good personal hygiene.

  • Supplies necessary for good hygiene should be provided to the workers at no cost.

  • Do not share objects or tools between workers, but if shared tools are required, ensure appropriate cleaning and disinfection is performed between uses.

  • Provide disposable disinfecting wipes so that workers can wipe down commonly used surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks, electronic payment terminals, other work tools and equipment) before each use.

  • Store and use disinfectants in a responsible and appropriate manner according to the label.

  • Do not mix bleach or other cleaning and disinfection products together. This can create toxic vapors.

  • Advise workers always to wear gloves appropriate for the chemicals being used when they are cleaning and disinfecting and that they may need additional PPE based on the setting and product.

DJ note: As we navigate this pandemic together, keep in mind that everyone is doing their best to respond appropriately, timely, and respectfully. With answers coming daily to the unknowns, new information shifts our understandings, recommendations, and direction. It is frustrating to everyone but we are not alone and can march onward more smoothly with empathy, transparency, and effective communications. Keep up the great job and know, this too shall pass.

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