Workplace Preparedness: General OSHA Questions & Responses
By Newfront | Published March 27, 2020
Q: What response does OSHA require by an employer if an employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19?
A: In California, Cal/OSHA requires employers to implement an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP), which requires employers to evaluate and control hazards in the workplace. Fed/OSHA uses the General Duty Clause, which requires a workplace that is free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Both requirements mandate the protection of employees from harm and would apply to a contagious employee. Typically, OSHA does not regulate standard colds and cases of flu in the workplace, other than a few specific industries and trades. However, if an employee were to contract COVID-19 or was suspected of having contracted COVID-19 based on symptoms, exposure with this person would be seen as potential harm to other employees. The employer would be required to immediately quarantine the employee, have them wear a mask, and get the employee out of the workplace to be medically evaluated.
**Q: Do diagnosed COVID-19 cases need to be recorded on my OSHA 300 log? **
A: COVID-19 cases would only need to be recorded on your OSHA 300 log if the worker was infected as a result of performing their work-related duties. According to OSHA’s website, employers are only required to record cases of COVID-19 if of the following are met:
The employer is required to maintain an OSHA 300 log, and they are not exempt
The case is a confirmed case of COVID-19
The case is work-related
The case involves one or more of the general recording criteria, such as medical treatment beyond first aid or days away from work
Q: Does OSHA need to be notified if an employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19?
A: OSHA requires employers to notify them if an employee dies or is admitted to a hospital for other than observation, amputation of a part of their body, loss of an eye, or any serious degree of permanent disfigurement. COVID-19 would only be reportable if it resulted in the death of the employee or they were admitted to a hospital for treatment.
**Q: How can I find information on what OSHA requires and how to protect my employees? **
A: OSHA recently published a guide on how workplaces can prepare for COVID-19. The OSHA guide discusses the various ways employers can protect their employees while working, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), engineering controls, and administrative controls based on the types of work. The publication also discusses how SARS-CoV-2 spreads, social distancing techniques, potential effects on the workplace, basic infection prevention measures, and specific steps your workplace can take to control exposure. It is highly recommended that your workplace put into place an Infection Prevention Control Plan based on your needs and exposures. A basic plan outline would include:
Providing a way for customers and employees to wash their hands, including soap and running water. If these are not available, provide an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
Encouraging employees to stay home if they are sick and exploring flexible leave policies that permit employees to stay home to care for sick family members
Encouraging respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes
Providing customers and the public with tissues and trash receptacles
Explore policies and practices such as flexible work sites and hours to increase physical distance among employees.
Discourage employees from using other employee’s phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment when possible.
Maintain regular housekeeping practices, including routine cleaning and disinfection of surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment.
Discontinuing nonessential travel to locations with COVID-19 outbreaks
Develop an emergency communication plan
Provide your employees up to date information and training on risk factors and protective behaviors.
**Q: Will OSHA be inspecting my employee’s home offices? **
A: With the new work from home order in California, as well as numerous states throughout the country, employers are going to have even more employees working from their homes. We have already discussed ways for employees to make their home office more ergonomic, but will OSHA be visiting your employees at home? Cal-OSHA recently clarified this question in an interview with the Cal/OSHA reporter. Cal/OSHA said they do not conduct inspections of employee’s home offices. Cal/OSHA also does not expect employers to conduct inspections of their employee’s homes. This does not eliminate your responsibility for your employees, however, while they are working from home. The Health and safety of your employees while they are working is still essential and should be included in any telework agreements or policies your organization has created.
Employee’s rights to workers’ compensation benefits are still the same and a worker can file a claim for benefits if they believe they suffered a work-related injury or illness, even while working from home. Keep in mind, workers’ compensation carriers will investigate whether the injury arose out of employment and occurred during the course and scope of employment before accepting any claims for benefits.
Employees working from home should self-monitor themselves for symptoms of the virus, which can include fever, coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. If symptoms develop, they should seek medical advice from a health care provider and keep their employer up to date on their return to work status.
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