If you’ve ever filled out the OSHA log for your company, there is a heading for workplace illness. For most of us this has never been used in our companies’ history. Considering the COVID pandemic what does this mean and what does OSHA say about COVID?
The pandemic is Novel and so has been some of OSHA’s guidance and rule making around it. There is no specific OSHA standard covering COVID-19. However, some OSHA requirements may apply to preventing occupational exposure to COVID-19. Among the most relevant are:
The General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, 29 USC 654(a)(1), which requires employers to furnish to each worker “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
This means that as employers we must identify the hazards unique to our building and take reasonable steps to prevent our team members from becoming ill at work. Since COVID is at the community transmission stage, it may be hard to prove the infected worker became ill at work. But knowing the hazard will inform the reasonable steps you can take to operate your business and protect your team and customers.
Studies vary on how long the SARS-CoV-2 virus can live outside an infected person. A study by UCLA and Princeton shows it can remain airborne for up to three hours, 72 hours on a hard surface, 24 hours or less on a textile or paper surface. However, in the case of the Diamond Princess Cruise ship, the CDC reported the virus on the cruise ship in the passenger rooms of those who had been infected and of those who had not been infected 17 days after the passengers left the cabins. This means viral load matters.
What’s your protocol for a sick employee?
If you have a sick person in your building what steps will you take to protect your team?
If your business is open to the public – retail, banking, restaurants – you’re mandated to have your frontline workers wearing masks and most companies are putting up additional barriers and spacing protocols to protect them. These are all reasonable steps.
If your business is mostly B2B or manufacturing and you rarely have visitors then different steps should be taken including spacing in kitchens and breakrooms, barriers between workers in production spaces, masks, reduced occupancy in conference rooms or training centers and increased cleaning and disinfection.
We can reinforce to our team that they have a large ownership stake in keeping themselves healthy. They can stay home when sick and away from others who are. They can wear a mask, keep their distance and before touching their faces, eating or smoking wash their hands. Above all else, these three will do the most to keep your team healthy.