Mar 25, 2020

Employer Guidance on Preparing the Workplace for COVID-19

Coronavirus OSHA

Coronavirus disease 2019 (“COVID-19”) is a respiratory disease caused by the COVID-19 virus and has been declared a Pandemic by the World Health Organization.  To reduce the impact of COVID-19 outbreak conditions on businesses, workers, customers, and the public, it is important for all employers to plan now for COVID-19.

For employers who have already planned for influenza pandemics, planning for COVID-19 may involve updating plans to address the specific exposure risk, sources of exposure, routes of transmission, and other unique characteristics of COVID-19.  Employers who are not prepared for a pandemic event should prepare themselves and their workers as far in advance as possible of potentially worsening outbreak conditions.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has not developed a standard specific to COVID-19, but has offered guidance as to how employers can satisfy their health and safety obligations to employees, and thus avoid potential liability under OSHA for a failure to provide a workplace that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.  This obligation is referred to as the “General Duty Clause”, and it requires employers to identify potential hazards in the workplace and to eliminate the potential harm.  This guidance is intended for planning purposes, and should be used to help identify risk levels in workplace settings and to determine any appropriate control measures which should be implemented to mitigate the risk.  It should be noted that, because OSHA has not passed specific standards related to COVID-19, all guidance, even issued by OSHA, is advisory in nature and informational in content.  It is not a standard or a regulation, and it neither creates new obligations nor alters existing obligations created by OSHA standards, or the OSH Act.

Pursuant to the Act, employers must comply with safety and health standards and regulations issued and enforced by OSHA or by an OSHA approved State Plan. Where no safety and health standards and regulations have been issued, OSHA relies upon the General Duty Clause Section 5(a)(1) which requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.  Even though it provides no specifics, the General Duty Clause is an enforceable part of OSHA, and to satisfy this obligation, employers must take certain steps to reduce the risk of worker exposure to COVID-19 in their workplace.

This guidance document will first describe steps all employers can take to reduce workers’ risk of exposure, followed by recommendations for classifying worker exposure as either high, medium or low, and providing specific recommendations for workers within specific risk categories.

To read the full guidelines, click here.

Legal Disclaimer: This alert has been prepared by Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP for informational purposes only. The content provided is a summary of an existing OSHA guidance and should not be interpreted as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The content is intended for general information purposes only, and you are urged to consult a lawyer concerning your own situation and any specific legal questions you may have. You may find more information for Guidance on Preparing Workplace for COVID-19 on the OSHA website here.

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