OSHA Issues Stronger Workplace Guidance on COVID-19

On January 29, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released stronger guidance to help employers better implement a protection program to mitigate and prevent viral spread in the workplace. This guidance is aimed to assist workplaces outside of the healthcare industry to assess their facility in order to determine what necessary control measures should be implemented.

Employee getting temperature checked

“More than 400,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and millions of people are out of work as a result of this crisis. Employers and workers can help our nation fight and overcome this deadly pandemic by committing themselves to making their workplaces as safe as possible,” said Senior Counselor to the Secretary of Labor M. Patricia Smith, in a recent press release.

OSHA provides additional details on key measures for slowing the spread of COVID-19, focusing on:

Physical distancing

The most effective way to protect workers is by keeping individuals at a six-foot distance from one another. Spaces between workers at a facility and spaces between workers and customers must be increased to accommodate a healthy distance. Workplaces may have to limit the number of people in a certain area at one time to achieve social distancing, but most workplaces can alter their layout to reduce close contact. Some of the most successful efforts for maintaining physical distance includes posting signs, installing floor marking tape, and utilizing other visual cues placed six feet apart to guide employees and visitors.

What about areas where social distancing can’t be practiced?

Some workplaces have fixed workstations, like a cashier stand, where individuals are not able to keep six feet away from others. In places where physical distancing cannot be maintained, facilities should install a barrier such as plexiglass or transparent shields to prevent direct transmission of respiratory droplets.

Face coverings

OSHA recommends providing all workers with some type of face covering such as cloth face coverings or surgical masks at no cost, unless their job specifically requires a respirator. Provided face coverings should be made of “at least two layers of a tightly woven breathable fabric, such as cotton, and should not have exhalation valves or vents.” Any visitors or non-employees should also be required to wear a face covering before entering the facility—and it’s important to remember face coverings are not an adequate substitution for social distancing. 

Use of necessary personal protective equipment (PPE)

As part of the risk assessment of the workplace, employers must determine if PPE will need to be provided as a supplement to the other listed controls. This may include N95 facepiece respirators, face shields, protective gowns, or safety gloves. In a recent report from OSHA, compliance inspectors found respiratory protection was one of the most frequently violated standards. Employers must provide fit testing and adequate training for any employee using a respirator.

Improving ventilation

OSHA defers to guidance published the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) for improving building ventilation. Air circulation is important for virus mitigation because it’s possible for respiratory droplets to stay suspended in air for hours if humidity conditions are just right. Preventing this from occurring can simply be done by keeping doors open or even improving the HVAC system already existing within the facility.

Promoting good hygiene

To promote healthy hygiene practices, employers need to provide the necessary supplies! This includes having soap and water readily available or hand sanitizer if the former is not feasible. Put touchless sanitizer dispensers and hand sanitizing stations in several areas around the facility to encourage hand hygiene. Posters can also be placed in restrooms and near sinks that give proper hand washing instructions and include other tips to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Cleaning & disinfection

With almost a year into the pandemic, its important workplaces are performing regular cleanings and have a plan in place to ensure it’s getting done. In addition to cleaning frequently touched surfaces like keyboards, doorknobs, and telephones, employees should have access to disposable disinfecting wipes so they can clean surfaces at any time. Have a procedure in place to sanitize tools and limit sharing tools between workers whenever possible.

Workplaces are obligated to provide a safe workplace free from known hazards—make sure your facility has the right tools to stay healthy.

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