OSHA’s General Duty Clause (GDC) makes it clear that employers have an obligation to protect workers from serious and recognized workplace hazards. It is the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace free from recognized hazards, one of which is now COVID-19.
Elements in a COVID-19 Prevention Program
A workplace COVID-19 prevention program is the most effective way to reduce the spread of the disease at work and should include the following (as identified by OSHA).
1. Just like you have a safety coordinator for your workplace safety program, you should have someone who is responsible for COVID-19 issues at your workplace.
2. Conduct a thorough hazard assessment. Identify potential workplace hazards related to COVID-19, where and how workers might be exposed to the virus at work.
3. Use the hierarchy of controls. Identify what measures will limit the spread of the virus. Can you eliminate the hazard? Or will you need a combination of engineering controls, workplace administrative policies and personal protective equipment to protect workers? (You’ll find more on this at the OSHA website for COVID-19.)
4. Identify workers who may be at higher risk for severe illness; this includes older adults, those with serious underlying medical conditions and workers with disabilities. Policies and practices to consider implementing are work at home, work in less densely occupied areas and better-ventilated alternate facilities.
5. Ensure workers feel comfortable reporting any COVID-19 exposures, symptoms, and potential hazards and know how to go about doing this.
6. Ensure all workers are trained on your COVID-19 policies and procedures. Teach workers basic facts about COVID-19 (how it is spread, physical distancing, face coverings and hand hygiene).
7. Ensure absence polices are non-punitive and don’t encourage workers to come to work sick or when they have been exposed.
8. Minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on workers. Allow workers to telework or work in an area isolated from others or use paid sick leave. Look into the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to see if it applies to your business.
9. Know what to do should anyone show symptoms at work. This means immediately separating from other workers, customers, vendors, or others, and sending home. Workers should try to get screened and tested for the virus.
10. If you suspect someone who has been in your facilities of having the virus (confirmed or not), follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations. Once the area(s) these people have been in have been appropriately disinfected, they can be opened for use again.
11. Know when you need to report COVID-19 illness and/or death on your Form 300 logs.
12. Ensure all workers, whether vaccinated or not, continue to follow protective measures. Do not distinguish between those who have received one and those who haven’t.
OSHA has prepared and published guidance on COVID-19 to help employers and workers identify risks of being exposed to and of contracting it in workplace settings. This information is not a standard or regulation and creates no new legal obligations. It is advisory in nature, informational in content.
OSHA provides some general guidance in developing a COVID-19 prevention program; however, these elements need to be customized to your workplace.
OSHA provides information under, Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.