April 23, 2020

By Anne E. Baggott 

As many states and municipalities allow businesses to reopen and return to work, employers should prepare to keep employees safe during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Occupational and Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19. The Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 pamphlet includes recommendations on policies and procedures employers can implement to provide safe and healthful workplaces. OSHA notes this guidance is “not a standard or regulation, and creates no new legal obligations.” Nevertheless, OSHA reminds employers of their duty to comply with safety and health standards and regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and to provide workplaces that are “free from recognized hazards.”

OSHA’s recommendations vary depending on the risk of occupational exposure. To assist employers with evaluating their risk of occupational exposure and needed controls, OSHA set forth four categories of risk levels: very high, high, medium, and low.

Although most Americans will likely fall in the lower to medium exposure risk levels. OSHA recommends that all employers:

  • Develop and implement an infectious disease preparedness and response plan.
  • Prepare to implement basic infection prevention measures.
  • Develop policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of sick people, if appropriate.
  • Develop, implement, and communicate about workplace flexibilities and protections.
  • Implement workplace controls.
  • Follow existing OSHA standards.

Very high and high exposure risk jobs “are those with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19.” Examples include jobs in the medical, laboratory and mortuary fields. For these high-risk jobs, OSHA recommends implementing engineering controls, such as appropriate air handling systems and isolation rooms; administrative controls, such as cohorting patients, enhanced medical monitoring, training, and psychological and behavioral support; providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which includes gloves, a gown, face shield and a face mask or respirator; and mandating safe work practices, such as requiring frequent hand-washing or using alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol.

Medium exposure risk jobs are those that require frequent and/or close contact with people who may be infected with COVID-19. Examples include jobs in schools, high-populated work environments and some retail settings. In this level of job, OSHA recommends implementing engineering controls, such as physical barriers between workers and customers, restricting public access to the workplace, minimizing face-to-face interactions, and providing PPE to employees.

Low exposure risk jobs are those that do not require contact with people known to be or suspected of being infected with COVID-19. Workers in this category have minimum close contact with the public and other coworkers. OSHA recommends implementing administrative controls, such as monitoring public heath recommendations and collaborating with employees to designate effective means of communication for COVID-19-related information. OSHA does not recommend engineering controls or PPE for this category.

Contact Anne E. Baggott at 816-714-3022 or abaggott@dysarttaylor.com for assistance with coronavirus-related employment issues.


A version of this article was published in Missouri Lawyers Weekly.