OSHA Issues Coronavirus Guidance for Workplaces

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

March 11, 2020

In response to the rapidly spreading coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) around the world and in the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released information and recommendations for preparing workplaces for potential exposure or outbreak of the illness. The Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 is based on traditional infection prevention and industrial hygiene practices.

The coronavirus has become so widespread that the World Health Organization has officially designated the outbreak as a pandemic. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that can cause from mild to severe illness and, in some cases, can be fatal. Symptoms typically include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

OSHA's guidance is intended to be advisory in nature. Although it does not create new legal obligations or alter existing obligations under OSHA standards or the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), it reminds employers that the Act's General Duty Clause requires employers to provide employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

To reduce the impact of COVID-19 outbreak conditions on businesses, workers, customers, and the public, it is important for all employers to plan now for COVID-19, according to OSHA. Employers and workers should use the planning guidance to help identify workplace risk levels and to determine appropriate control measures to implement.

The guidance explains that planning for COVID-19 by employers may involve updating current influenza pandemic plans to address:

  • Specific exposure risks;
  • Sources of exposure;
  • Routes of transmission; and
  • Other unique characteristics of COVID-19.

Employers who have not prepared for pandemic events are advised to prepare themselves and their workers as far in advance as possible of potentially worsening outbreak conditions.

The guidance warns that lack of continuity planning can result in a "cascade of failures" as employers attempt to address challenges of COVID-19 with insufficient resources and workers who might not be adequately trained for jobs they may have to perform under pandemic conditions.