How to Make your Workplace OSHA Compliant: What you Need to Know
Whether you are an employer or an employee, below is information you need to know. If you aren’t familiar with OSHA, check out our last blog that reviewed OSHA’s history and its general standards of PPE. Even if you are familiar with OSHA's health and safety standards, are you up to date on workplace safety related to the novel coronavirus? If not, keep reading!
OSHA’s primary purpose is to protect the health and safety of employees.
As it relates to coronavirus, “OSHA requirements apply to preventing occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2”. They list a few specific standards that are most pertinent to COVID-19. Among this list is the General Duty Clause (specifically section 5(a)(1)) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970. The legislation of this clause is: 29 USC 654(a)(1). Employers are required to provide 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."
To keep safety in the workplace, OSHA also references the Blood-borne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030). This standard relates to exposure of human blood and other infectious or potentially infectious secretions in the workplace.
Depending on where you live, you may have varying OSHA guidelines
Each state has to comply with OSHA’s general standards, but they may also have a state-specific set of standards with more guidelines and regulations. 28 states have approved OSHA plans where they are implementing their occupational safety and health programs.
SARS-CoV-2 is not the only threat employers have to worry about during this pandemic. Employers must also protect their employees from any hazardous chemicals used to clean and disinfectant their workplace. Many available cleaning solutions contain some level of chemicals (and hazardous ones). Review OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard to identify which cleaning solutions to use and which ones to avoid.
Recognize hazards to make sure you are compliant with OSHA INSPECTIONS
Speaking of hazards, how do you know which level of risk your employees fall under for occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2? Well, that depends on a few factors:
- Work industry
- An employee's health conditions
- Social distancing (job roles such as healthcare responders require close proximity and they don't meet the social distance protocol of 6 feet).
What are the levels of risk?
Thankfully, most jobs will fall into the lower levels of risk on OSHA's pyramid. These jobs are office workers, telemedicine healthcare workers, remote workers, and manufacturing/industrial facility workers.
The next category of risk is medium exposure risk. This category described jobs that “require frequent/close contact with people who may be infected, but who are not known to have or suspected of having COVID-19.” Places with medium exposure risk include high-density areas and schools. People who have interaction with travelers that come from widespread covid-19 transmission locations also fall under this category.
The high exposure risk category is comprised of jobs that have “a high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of SARS-CoV-2”. Jobs in this category are medical transport workers, mortuary workers, and healthcare delivery and support staff.
The highest exposure risk category is noted as “very High Exposure Risk” by OSHA’s guidelines. These jobs include healthcare workers, such as dentists, nurses, doctors, medical technicians, etc.
Now that you’re aware of the varying levels of risk, here are the guidelines to control and prevent
These general guidance principles apply to all employees and employers within the US. Employers should be using a blend of safe work practices, administrative and engineering controls, and PPE to keep their workplace safe. Depending on the industry, some employers must also meet training requirements set by OSHA standards. To do this, employers will have to train their employees on infection prevention. Review the industry standards to see if this applies to your industry!
Before we get into preventative measures, we understand some of these health practices should go without saying. (Hopefully, everyone is washing their hands with soap and not just water!) But since we want to error on the side of safety, we'll share these best practices anyway.
All employers and employees should adopt the following preventative measures while in the workplace:
- Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes as much as possible (especially with unwashed hands).
- Avoid proximity to individuals who are sick. (I would generally assume most people follow this guidance - but in 2020, you never know)!
- If you're feeling a bit under the weather, it's probably best for you to stay home.
- Wash your hands often. Use soap and water and wash for at least 20 seconds!
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Identify risk factors that put individuals at increased risk of developing complications if exposed.
While this is a summary of OSHA guidelines, you can always reference their comprehensive “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for Covid-19”. A combined approach of all the safety measures is the surest way to keep your workplace safe. Just remember – if personal protective equipment is required for a job, make sure employees always use it. A few minutes may seem benign without PPE - but it only takes an instant for something to happen.