The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued numerous directives in March and April 2020 related to COVID-19. These include Interim Guidances about protections that should be used for employees that have a higher risk level of occupational exposure by job category as well as those lower-risk categories, steps an employer should take to isolate potentially infectious or infectious individuals depending, and cleaning and decontamination recommendations. Four of the Temporary Enforcement Memorandums deal only with the Respiratory Protection Standard in response to the Presidential Memorandum requiring conservation of N95 masks for healthcare workers. The OSHA standards, which are applicable to all employers who supply respirators to their employees, list appropriate alternatives to N95, when expired or used masks can be used and ranked permissible sources for respirators, among other requirements.

OSHA also issued an Interim Enforcement Response Plan for COVID-19 that details what its inspectors will evaluate to determine if an employer has implemented appropriate measures to protect its workforce. It is wise for employers to use the Interim Enforcement Response Plan as a checklist of what should be implemented in their workplaces. It not only provides a detailed plan of what employers should be doing in their workplaces to protect employees and meet OSHA’s requirements for health and safety but will also serve as an employer’s best plan for avoiding citations. Employers should take note that OSHA will exercise discretion in citations for employers in non-healthcare or first responder settings if they observe an employer’s good faith efforts to comply with OSHA’s COVID-19 guidance and CDC recommendations.

OSHA’s COVID-19 Guidance was issued for non-healthcare employers and details specific steps employers must take and recommends employers do the following:

  • Employers should prepare a preparedness and response plan to protect the workforce while continuing business operations.
  • Employers should implement all of the following workplace controls
    • Implement environmental and operational controls, considered by OSHA to be the most important measures to adopt to reduce the potential of exposure;
    • Evaluate the various employment positions under the four risk levels identified in the Guidance and issue proper PPE to address the risk of exposure;
    • Implement general infection prevention measures for safe workplaces including examples of PPE; and
    • Implement a process for isolating ill people.

These recommendations are more specific and in addition to the initial hygiene, exposure, quarantine and travel recommendations the CDC made before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Be sure to check out HSB’s Essential Services Guide to Keeping Workplaces Safe.

If you have questions about this topic or other employment law matters, please contact Chris or the HSB Employment Law practice team.

For additional resources on COVID-19, please access HSB’s resource page.