The OSHA Alert provides employers and workers with general practices they can follow to help prevent exposure to COVID-19 as well as practices for employers of workers with potential occupational exposures to the virus.
The guidance provides employers and workers with insight on how to plan for a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace. “Employers and workers should use this planning guidance to help identify risk levels in workplace settings and to determine any appropriate control measures to implement.” The guidance “focuses on the need for employers to implement engineering, administrative, and work practice controls and personal protective equipment, as well as considerations for doing so.”
- Steps All Employers Can Take to Reduce Workers’ Risk of Exposure, pg. 7
- What to Do to Protect Workers at:
- Lower Exposure Risk, pg. 20
- Medium Exposure Risk, pg. 21
- High or Very High Exposure Risk, pg. 23
The guidance helps employers identify the risk level of their workers’ exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. OSHA divided job tasks into four risk exposure levels - Very High, High, Medium, Lower. The risk level “may depend in part on the industry type and need for contact within 6 feet of people known to have, or suspected of having, COVID-19.”
The guidance provides practices and tips for employers in the retail industry to limit employees’ risk of exposure to COVID-19.
OSHA released this one-page poster with a list of safety precautions employers can use to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 at the workplace.
OSHA announced that when determining whether to issue a citation for a violation, its Area Offices and compliance safety and health officers (CSHO) will take into consideration an employer’s good faith effort to comply with workplace safety requirements. This is meant to accommodate for the various stay-at-home and quarantine orders that limit the ability of employees, consultants, and contractors to provide “training, auditing, equipment inspections, testing, and other essential safety and industrial hygiene services.” The guidance instructs officers to evaluate if the employer “explored all options to comply with applicable standards,” implemented “interim alternative protections,” and “took steps to reschedule the required annual activity as soon as possible.” The guidance took effect immediately and is in place until further notice.
The Response Plan provides Area Offices and CSHOs with instructions and guidance for handling complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports related to COVID-19. The Plan establishes interim procedures to provide field offices with flexibility and discretion and enable them to maximize OSHA resources.
The Plan instructs Area Offices and CSHOs to rely specifically on the following standards to assess workplace safety:
- 29 CFR § 1904, Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness
- 29 CFR § 1910.132, General Requirements - Personal Protective Equipment
- 29 CFR § 1910.133, Eye and Face protection
- 29 CFR § 1910.134, Respiratory Protection
- 29 CFR § 1910.141, Sanitation
- 29 CFR § 1910.145, Specification for Accident Prevention Signs and Tags
- 29 CFR § 1910.1020, Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records
- Section 5(a)(1), General Duty Clause of the OSH Act
The General Duty Clause will be cited if “deficiencies not addressed by OSHA standards or regulations are discovered” and, despite other guidance (e.g., CDC) being available, “(1) The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed; (2) The hazard was recognized; (3) The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and (4) There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.” In such circumstances Area Offices are instructed to issue hazard alert letters to warn employers of any COVID-19-related hazards and recommend implementation of protective measures.
The Response Plan also instructs Area Offices and CSHOs to consult CDC guidance when assessing potential workplace hazards and determining if an employer has provided adequate protective measures for workers; when such measures are not as protective as those recommended by the CDC, Area Offices are instructed to consider “whether employees are exposed to a recognized hazard and whether there are feasible means to abate that hazard.”
In the most recent update, the Response Plan provides Area Offices and CSHOs differing approaches to prioritizing COVID-19 workplace inspections depending on the presence of COVID-19 transmissions in the geographic areas of the worksite. Areas where the community spread has decreased will see a return to the inspection planning policy that OSHA relied on prior to the COVID-19 crisis, but COVID-19 cases will be prioritized as they arise. In areas with sustained elevated transmission or a resurgence, COVID-19 cases will continue to be prioritized inspections, with particular attention for on-site inspections given to high-risk workplaces.
As state and local governments begin to reopen their economies, OSHA has issued its new, revised enforcement guidance largely restoring the work-relatedness determination requirement for employers. The new guidance states that while “employers should be taking action to determine whether employee COVID-19 illnesses are work-related and thus recordable,” the agency also recognizes that such determinations will remain difficult in certain circumstances. The new guidance clarifies that CSHOs should consider the following when determining if an employer met their obligation to make work-relatedness determinations:
- The reasonableness of the employer’s investigation into work-relatedness
- The evidence available to the employer
- The evidence that a COVID-19 illness was contracted at work
If the employer conducts a “reasonable and good faith inquiry” based on these considerations and cannot determine if a case was more likely than not caused by workplace exposure, the employer does not need to record the illness. That said, OSHA encourages “employer[s] to examine COVID-19 cases among workers and respond appropriately to protect workers,” regardless of whether a case is or is not determined to be work-related.
On April 8, OSHA expanded application of its March 14 temporary enforcement guidance to all workplaces covered by OSHA where there is required use of respirators.
The March guidance allowed healthcare employers to use either qualitative or quantitative methods to test the fit of filtering facepiece respirators on health care personnel. The guidance gave OSHA field offices “enforcement discretion concerning the annual fit testing requirement” for employers that meet the various criteria outlined in the guidance.
OSHA will exercise enforcement discretion with regards to the annual fit-testing requirements so long as employers show good-faith efforts to comply with the standards and follow the steps provided in the March guidance. The temporary measures will be in place until further notice. Learn more.
The guidance allows employers to use respirators and filters certified under standards of other countries or jurisdictions when N95 masks or alternatives are not available. OSHA will exercise enforcement discretion in such instances on a case-by-case basis. The guidance is effective immediately and in place until further notice.
The guidance announces that OSHA will provide “enforcement discretion to permit the extended use and reuse of respirators as well as the use of respirators that are beyond their manufacturer’s recommended shelf life.” Employers can take advantage of this policy if they cannot obtain new N95 masks or other similarly effective alternatives. The guidance applies to all industries, but health care personnel have additional restrictions on when such masks will be permitted. Additionally, OSHA is encouraging all employers to find ways to minimize their need for N95 respirators due to the limited supply of the masks. The guidance is effective immediately and will remain in place throughout the public health emergency.
OSHA issued guidance to help Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) enforce the Respiratory Protection standard, 29 CFR § 1910.134, with respect to the reuse of filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) and best methods for disinfecting them. For workplaces that require employees to wear respirators, shortages of FFRs and alternative preferred respirators are forcing employers and employees to reuse FFRs, which require a decontamination of some sort. Currently, there are no approved methods for decontamination processes for used FFRs by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). This guidance lists a few decontamination methods that may be successful in maintaining a respirator’s fit and protection based off of limited available research that NIOSH has identified. The memo takes effect immediately and will remain in effect until further notice.