The virus is SARS-CoV-2, the illness is Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has already published Guidance on Preparing Workplaces.

Authored By: Amber E. Maru, Specialized Compliance and Safety Consultant

As with any new hazards or threats that employees face, it is important as business owners to put plans in place to protect the health and lives of those we rely upon to carry out operations. Considering the potential effects of COVID-19 to workplace safety, before employees return to an office setting or as essential employees are already working through the obstacles at hand, this is something that can save businesses from potential issues. So, the sooner employers create or update their safety plans and evaluate cleaning and infection control processes for their people and the locations where they work, the less likely there will be incidence of illness, and business disruptions.

OSHA’s Goal
In order to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak on businesses, workers, and the community it is essential that all employers put a plan in place for COVID-19 now. For employers who have already put a plan in place for an influenza pandemic; it will only be a matter of updating their plans to include specifics of SARS-CoV-2. For employers who do not have pandemic plans in place; it will be important to plan as far ahead as possible to minimize effects of a potential worsening of the pandemic’s effects. Continuity of planning will be essential in mitigating the cascade of failures that could come about when employers are addressing COVID-19 with insufficient resources and inadequately trained staff performing positions in pandemic conditions.

The guidance provided by OSHA is based upon preventing infectious diseases and industrial hygiene practices which are already things OSHA has laid the groundwork for. The key items they state employers should focus on are, of course: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and then work practices, administrative, and engineering controls. The information provided will help identify workplace risks and help employers determine how to implement control measures. As new information about SARS-CoV-2 arises additional guidance may be needed. For a more detailed list of OSHA resources, review the OSHA COVID-19 webpage

As there is no current vaccine in place for COVID-19, workplaces may see extensive outbreak events occurring. With widespread person to person transmission businesses may experience:

  • Absenteeism
  • Change in commerce patterns
  • Supply and delivery interruptions

Steps Employers Can Take

Basic steps that can be taken to reduce risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 within the workplace.

  • Put together an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan (IDPRP). Plans should include the risks that workers face at different worksites and the various tasks that are performed.
  • Stay informed on guidance being published by governmental and health agencies and consider how to incorporate the resources into workplace plans.
  • For contingency plans that may be needed incase of an outbreak follow the recommendations of governmental agencies at all levels.

Later sections of the guidance document also focus on specific recommendations for workers in particular risk categories. For a well-rounded IDPRP plan these risk categories should be taken into consideration.

Other Steps for Controlling COVID-19

  • Prepare and carry out basic measures to prevent infection such as; frequent and thorough hand washing,
  • Put policies and procedures in place to promptly identify and isolate sick people, where appropriate,
  • Protections and workplace flexibilities should be communicated through a plan developed based upon this and other governmental agencies’ documentation and lastly, as with most OSHA guidance documents, it provides workplace controls to help employers determine what should be implemented in their workplace/s.

Controlling Exposure

A key component in the control of COVID-19 in all businesses that may have previously been overlooked; will be to maintain more stringent housekeeping practices. Carrying out routine cleaning and disinfecting of all surfaces within the work environment using “products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims are expected to be effective against SARS-CoV-2 based on data for harder to kill viruses”.

The Main Message

If your business does not already have a Health and Safety Plan in place, now would be the time to put one in place. It will serve to protect your employees and save lives.

References: “OSHA 3990-03 2020 – Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19”

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