Reducing Coronavirus Risk in Your Facilities

Reducing Coronavirus Risk in Your Facilities

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the coronavirus is spread between humans from coughing, sneezing, and touching, and enters through the eyes, nose, and mouth. The CDC has provided the symptoms of COVID-19 here on their website.

Employers have had to consider what steps they can take to protect their workers while meeting their legal obligations. If you have employees in occupations that may be at high risk of contracting the virus, OSHA’s General Duty Clause may require certain measures to be taken.

Click here to view tips on how to protect yourself and others from spreading the virus.

Employer regulatory/legal concerns

OSHA – OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires an employer to protect its workers against “recognized hazards” to safety or health which may cause serious injury or death. According to an analysis by the law firm Seyfarth Shaw: If OSHA believes employees at a worksite are likely to be “exposed” to the virus, employers may be required to develop procedures to protect its employees. These workers will likely be occupations like health care providers, emergency responders, transportation workers.

OSHA does not have any regulations specific to pandemic preparedness. Although, the agency did issue a guide on the topic in 2013. In that guide, OSHA recommends employers develop and implement plans to reduce the risk of infection among staff by:

  • Limiting employee contact with infected individuals
  • Allowing infected employees to take sick leave
  • Allowing staff to telecommute
  • Using phone or teleconferencing instead of face-to-face meetings

In mid-March, OSHA released guidance to help employers prepare their workplaces for an outbreak of COVID-19. With the release came a reminder that any incidents of employees contracting the virus at work are recordable illnesses. These incidents are subject to the same rules and failure-to-record fines as any other workplace injury and illness.

While OSHA exempts recording incidents of employees contracting common colds and the flu in the workplace, COVID-19 is not exempt.

Protected activity – Under OSHA’s whistleblower statutes, employees who refuse to work because they believe they are at risk of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace (due to the actual or probable presence of the virus), could be seen as a “protected activity”. A “protected activity” bans employers from taking adverse action against them for their refusal to work.

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