OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19: In a Nutshell

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By: Eugene Scott, Esq. (Ferraiuoli LLC)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently published the following guidance document: OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, advisory in nature and informational in content, intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not a standard or a regulation, and it neither creates new legal obligations nor alters existing obligations created by OSHA standards or the Occupational Safety and Health Act (the Act).

The Act of 1970 was adopted «to assure safe and healthful working conditions», requiring employers to comply with safety and health standards and regulations promulgated by OSHA or by a state or territory with an OSHA-approved state plan. The Act’s General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. The Puerto Rico State Plan covers private sector workers of the Commonwealth and state and local government workers.

OSHA developed this COVID-19 Guidance based on traditional infection prevention and industrial hygiene practices. It focuses on the need for employers to implement engineering, administrative, work practice controls, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as other considerations. Employers and workers should use the Guidance to determine any appropriate control measures to implement. The Guidance is divided in sections and related steps and criteria designed to reduce the risk of worker exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace; focusing on jobs classified as having low, medium, high, and very high exposure risks. Based on these risk categories, it provides specific recommendations for employers and workers.

In classifying worker exposure to COVID-19, the level of risk depends in part on the industry type, need for contact within 6 feet of people known to be, or suspected of being, infected with COVID-19, or requirement for repeated or extended contact with persons known to be, or suspected of being infected with the virus. Most workers will likely fall in the lower exposure risk (caution) or medium exposure risk levels. However, the Guidance provides detailed considerations based on the level of risk and exposure levels that should be reviewed by employers for workplace applicability determinations and proper planning.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Guidance of Preparing Workplaces for
COVID-19, OSHA 3990-03-2020, [En Español]