For employers, both those expecting to reopen and those who remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has several guidance documents regarding COVID-19 and workplace safety. Irrespective of this guidance, employers must comply with OSHA’s safety and health standards and regulations or where applicable, an OSHA-approved state plan. Further, under Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the “General Duty Clause,” employees must be provided with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
Earlier last month, OSHA issued the “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19” that provides recommendations on basic steps to prevent spread and reduce employee risk to COVID-19. Since then, OSHA issued individual guidance alerts on tips to keep workers and workforces safe in construction, manufacturing, package delivery, retail, and restaurant & beverage sectors.
Generally, tips include:
- Practice sensible social distancing and maintain a distance of 6-feet, where possible.
- Encourage workers to stay home if they are sick and to report any safety and health concerns.
- Provide resources to wash hands or access to wash hands is limited, alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Allow masks to be worn over the nose and mouth.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning chemicals for protection against the coronavirus.
- Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces, equipment, and frequently-touched items.
- Train workers in and encourage use of proper hygiene practices, workplace controls, and respiratory etiquette (e.g., covering coughs and sneezes).
The individual guidance alerts provide ways to implement the protective measures for workforce activities, highlighted for specific industries.
For the construction and manufacturing industries, some examples from the alerts include:
- Keep in-person meetings as short as possible, with the number of workers in attendance limited.
- Discourage workers from using other workers’ tools and equipment. If must be shared, provide alcohol-based wipes and instruct workers, on how to properly clean tools before and after use.
- Train workers on proper use and procedures for protective clothing and equipment, and continue to use normal job hazard protection measures.
- Monitor public health communications about COVID-19 recommendations for the workplace and ensure workers have access to and understand that information.
For package delivery, some examples from the alert include:
- Minimize driver-customer interactions by leaving deliveries in locations that do not require person-to-person exposures (e.g., doorsteps and loading docks).
- Discourage workers from using other workers’ tools and equipment.
For retail workers, some examples from the alert include:
- Mark 6-foot distances on the floor in checkout lines and open every other cash register.
- Provide workers and customers with tissues and trash receptacles.
- Use a drive-through window or curbside pick-up.
For restaurants & beverage vendors offering takeout or curbside pickup, some examples from the alert include:
- Mark 6-foot distances on the floor in pickup lines
- Encourage customers to pre-pay over the phone or online, avoid direct hand-off, reserve parking spots only for curbside pickup, and use signs to display service options and instructions for pickup (e.g., curbside or take-out), and hours of operation.
Where applicable and feasible, distance and barriers between workers can also be achieved through innovative approaches (e.g., repositioning workstations and using plexiglass shields), as well as flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts) and limiting the duration of work activities.
OSHA continues to publish guidance and enforcement memos during the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of other key considerations businesses should keep in mind, employers should continue to be aware of their evolving and workplace-specific obligations under federal OSHA regulations or any other applicable state or local requirements.
As the law continues to evolve on these matters, please note that this article is current as of date and time of publication and may not reflect subsequent developments. The content and interpretation of the issues addressed herein is subject to change. Cole Schotz P.C. disclaims any and all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this publication to the fullest extent permitted by law. This is for general informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Do not act or refrain from acting upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining legal, financial and tax advice. For further information, please do not hesitate to reach out to your firm contact or to any of the attorneys listed in this publication.