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03.17.2020

In response to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak, EPA and OSHA have issued guidance to assist employers as they take steps to ensure a safe workplace environment for their employees. Likewise, many consultants are standing by to help employers prepare and implement or update Health and Safety Plans (HASPs) and specific cleaning protocols.

Hirschler’s environmental, and health and safety attorneys are available to offer assistance with navigating these complex issues and providing referrals for consultants who can assist with technical support.

EPA-Approved Cleaning Products

EPA’s “List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 [the cause of COVID-19]” includes products that meet the agency’s criteria for combatting the virus. When purchasing a product, check to see if its EPA registration number is included on this list. EPA has also published a list of Frequently Asked Questions relating to List N that could be helpful.

OSHA Guidance

In an attempt to assist workplaces with responses to the COVID-19 outbreak, OSHA has issued a guidance document entitled “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19,” with basic steps employers can take to reduce the risk of worker exposure:

  1. Develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan
  2. Prepare and Implement Basic Infection Prevention Measures
  3. Develop Policies and Procedures for Prompt Identification and Isolation of Sick People
  4. Develop, Implement, and Communicate About Workplace Flexibilities and Protections
  5. Implement Workplace Controls
  6. Follow Existing OSHA Standards

OSHA’s guidance encourages employers to classify the risk of worker exposure, which will depend on the industry type, the need for contact and the requirement for extended contact with employees. There are specific recommendations for jobs classified as low risk (e.g. minimal contact with public), medium exposure risk (e.g. schools, retail), and high or very high exposure risk (e.g. healthcare). Recommendations relate to engineering controls (ranging from physical barriers to isolation rooms), administrative controls (access to information, minimizing contact, medical monitoring), and personal protective equipment (gloves, face mask, goggles, respirators).

OSHA also has provided interim guidance for specific worker groups and their employers, including healthcare, deathcare, laboratory, airline, border protection, solid waste and wastewater management.

While there is no specific OSHA standard covering COVID-19, OSHA already has numerous regulations that require employers to protect employees from exposure to workplace hazards, including those for personal protective equipment (29 CFR 1910.132) and respiratory protection (29 CFR 1910.134). OSHA also has issued temporary guidance related to enforcement of respirator annual fit-testing requirements for healthcare. Finally, the General Duty Clause (29 USC 654(a)(1)) 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.”

Technical Assistance

As a practical matter, employers with existing HASPs may need to include “Infectious Disease” among the listed hazards. The HASP would then consider the type of facility and whether the employer has a Hazard Communication Program or workplace controls that are specific to coronavirus (e.g. hospitals and nursing homes). Contractors and consultants who are required to visit high-risk locations will need to consider safety issues related to protecting their own employees as well as whether added precautions are necessary to protect the populations present at any location that is visited.

Concerned that your workplace may not be in compliance with current rules or regulations? Contact a Hirschler professional.

Media Contact

Kristen M. Chatterton
804.771.5637
kchatterton@hirschlerlaw.com

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