Newsletters and Alerts: Employment Alert

COVID-19 and OSHA Guidance

Monday, April 20, 2020  
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Safety Alert: April 20th, 2020

COVID-19 and OSHA Guidance
Most employers have already adapted to the OR and WA Stay at Home restrictions and have a basic Business Continuity Plan in place.  In this alert, we review safety topics employers should be considering with the evolving situation and provide OSHA’s specific guidance for our Members.

OSHA states that contingency plans should be made to prepare for increased rates of absenteeism, surge or decline in operations, interrupted supply chains and delayed deliveries.  Employers must also evaluate what steps they can take to reduce the risk of worker exposure to COVID-19 in their workplace, analyzing their own particular operations as they develop their contingency plans.

The main areas of OSHA COVID-19 guidance for employers relate to the following topics. 
  • Communication with employees
  • Implementation of workplace safety measures & OSHA’s “Hierarchy of Controls”
  • Employer requirements for providing face masks
  • Temporary OSHA enforcement discretion regarding respiratory protection
  • OSHA 300 Log Reporting
  • Hazard Communication requirements for disinfecting chemicals
We’ve summarized OSHA’s COVID-19 Guidance on each of these topics below. To read OSHA’s detailed COVID-19 guidance document click here to view the full OSHA document.
OSHA highlights the need for emphasizing basic infection prevention measures in their Guidance Document. Employers should maintain regular or enhanced housekeeping practices, including routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment. When choosing cleaning chemicals, ensure you or your cleaning company are using disinfectant that have been approved by the EPA as effective against emerging viral pathogens.

Communicating With Your Employees
Communicate with your employees about the steps your organization is taking to address the COVID-19 Virus. Outline proper hygiene practices including the use of any workplace controls (including PPE).Informed workers who feel safe at work are less likely to be unnecessarily absent.
Besides frequent and thorough handwashing, workers should be encouraged to stay home if they are sick and wear face coverings when in public.Workers should be discouraged from using other staff members’ phones, desks, work tools and equipment where possible. In addition,businesses open to the public should provide tissues and trash receptacles.

It’s important that your employees are aware of your sick leave policies, which should be flexible and consistent with public health guidance and FFCRA guidelines.Be aware of workers’ concerns about pay, leave, safety, health, and other issues that may arise.

Implementing Workplace Safety Measures
OSHA uses a framework called the “hierarchy of controls” to select ways of controlling workplace hazards. During the COVID-19 outbreak it may not be possible to completely eliminate the hazard so the most effective protection measures OSHA recommends are below, listed from most effective to least effective. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of control measure when considering the ease of implementation, effectiveness, and cost. In most cases, a combination of control measures will be necessary to protect workers from exposure to the virus.
  • Engineering Controls - These controls reduce exposure to hazards without relying on worker behavior and can be the most cost-effective solution to implement.  Some examples are:
    • Installing high-efficiency air filters.
    • Increasing ventilation rates in the work environment.
    • Installing physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards.
    • Installing a drive through window for customer service.
  • Administrative Controls – These controls require action by the worker or employer and are usually changes in work policy or procedures to reduce or minimize exposure:
    • Review policies and procedures for prompt identification of workers, clients and customers that are showing symptoms.
    • Encourage sick workers to stay home.
    • Minimize unnecessary contact by moving to virtual meetings and implementing telework where possible.
    • Establish alternating days or extra shifts to reduce number of employees onsite at a given time.
    • Provide up to date education and training on COVID-19 risk factors and protective measures (hand washing, sanitizing, face masks)
    • Train workers who need to use protective clothing and equipment on best practices for how to put it on, wear it, and take off as well as sanitizing measures required at end of shifts.  Training materials should be easy to understand and available in the appropriate language for all workers.
  • Safe Work Practices – These controls are a type of administrative control as they rely on action from the employer and worker:
    • Provide resources and a work environment that promotes personal hygiene. For example, provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol, disinfectants, and disposable towels for workers to clean their work surfaces.
    • Require regular hand washing or using of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Workers should always wash hands when they are visibly soiled and after removing any PPE.
    • Post handwashing signs in restrooms.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – While engineering and administrative controls are considered more effective in minimizing exposure to COVID-19, PPE may also be needed to prevent certain exposures.  PPE should not take the place of other prevention strategies
    • During the COVID-19 outbreak, recommendations for PPE specific to occupations or job tasks may change depending on location, updated risk assessments for workers, and information on PPE effectiveness in preventing the spread of the virus.
    • All types of PPE must be:
      • Selected based upon the hazard to the worker.
      • Properly fitted and periodically refitted, as applicable (e.g., respirators).
      • Consistently and properly worn when required.
      • Regularly inspected, maintained, and replaced, as necessary.
      • Properly removed, cleaned, and stored or disposed of, as applicable, to avoid contamination of self, others, or the environment.
    • Employers are obligated to provide their workers with PPE needed to keep them safe while performing their jobs. The types of PPE required during the COVID-19 outbreak will be based on the risk of being infected with the virus while working and job tasks that may lead to exposure.
Do Employers Need to Provide Face Masks?
Employers should analyze their worker’s tasks for level of risk in order to determine if they should  provide face masks to their employees. Currently the CDC recommendation is for voluntary use of face masks, but an employer could be compelled to require certain employees to wear masks if employees are considered “medium risk” for COVID-19 exposure because, for example, they have frequent contact with individuals within six feet.

If a hazard analysis warrants face masks for specific workers, it is considered a form of administrative control and part of the employer’s obligation to provide a safe workplace.  In these cases, the employer also has the obligation to train workers to use face masks safely and educate workers on limitations of cloth masks versus M95 masks or respirators.  If the hazard analysis determines that masks are not required, the employers should clearly communicate that use is voluntary to avoid potential OSHA obligations.

Respiratory Equipment – Temporary Enforcement Discretion
OSHA will, on a case-by-case basis, exercise enforcement discretion when considering issuing citations under 29 CFR § 1910.134(d) and/or the equivalent respiratory protection provisions of other health standards in cases where:
  • The employer has made a good faith effort to obtain other alternative filtering facepiece respirators, reusable elastomeric respirators, or PAPRs appropriate to protect workers;
  • The employer has monitored their supply of N95s and prioritized their use according to CDC guidance (;;
  • Surgical masks and eye protection (e.g., face shields, goggles) were provided as an interim measure to protect against splashes and large droplets (note: surgical masks are not respirators and do not provide protection against aerosol-generating procedures); and
  • Other feasible measures, such as using partitions, restricting access, or using other engineering controls, work practices, or administrative controls that reduce the need for respiratory protection, were implemented to protect employees.

OSHA 300 Log
Under OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements, COVID-19 is a recordable illness, and employers are responsible for recording cases of COVID-19, if: (1) the case is a confirmed case of COVID-19, as defined by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC);  (2) the case is work-related as defined by OSHA;  and (3) the case involves one or more of the general recording criteria set forth by OSHA.

Employers of workers in the healthcare industry, emergency response organizations (e.g., emergency medical, firefighting, and law enforcement services), and correctional institutions must continue to make work-relatedness determinations pursuant to OSHA.

Until further notice, however, OSHA will not enforce the General Duty Clause to require other employers to make the same work-relatedness determinations, except where:
  1. There is objective evidence that a COVID-19 case may be work-related. This could include, for example, a number of cases developing among workers who work closely together without an alternative explanation; and
  2. The evidence was reasonably available to the employer. Examples of reasonably available evidence include information given to the employer by employees, as well as information that an employer learns regarding its employees’ health and safety in the ordinary course of managing its business and employees.
This enforcement policy will help employers focus their response efforts on implementing good hygiene practices in their workplaces, and otherwise mitigating COVID-19’s effects, rather than on making difficult work-relatedness decisions in circumstances where there is community transmission.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and should be coded as such on the OSHA Form 300. Because this is an illness, if an employee voluntarily requests that his or her name not be entered on the log, the employer must comply with the request.

An employer must consider an injury or illness to meet the general recording criteria, and therefore to be recordable, if it results in any of the following: death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness. An employer must also consider a case to meet the general recording criteria if it involves a significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional, even if it does not result in death, days away from work, restricted work or job transfer, medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness.


Disinfecting and Sanitizing Chemicals
Employers must also protect their workers from exposure to hazardous chemicals used for cleaning and disinfection. Assess your practices or communicate with your vendors to ensure that sanitizers and sterilizers do not contain hazardous chemicals. Where workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals, employers must comply with OSHA's Hazard Communication standard, Personal Protective Equipment standards, and other applicable OSHA chemical standards. 

Contact us for more information about these new changes at or 503.595.2170

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