What regulations govern the steps my business should take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our workplace?
There is currently no specific OSHA standard that covers preventing COVID-19 exposure. Existing OSHA standards may apply, including those regarding personal protective equipment. While not mandatory, OSHA has provided control and prevention guidance and the CDC has issued interim guidance for businesses and employers. Employers should also consult their local health authorities for any mandatory health measures that have been implemented.
Current medical and public health guidance suggests hygiene and social distancing are key to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. These sources suggest the same good hygiene measures that protect your employees against the flu and common colds will also help protect against COVID-19. Creating a culture of hygiene in the workplace is an important step employers can take to provide a sense of control to their employees, reduce the transmission not only of COVID-19 but also similar respiratory illnesses also in circulation, and decrease the likelihood of success of claims that might be asserted in the case of workplace transmission of COVID-19.
Many healthcare businesses already provide training about the importance of handwashing and other protocols that reduce the transmission of respiratory illnesses. These approaches can be adopted by businesses of all kinds. A remarkably simple and easy to execute training technique is to provide instructional signage – signs that remind people to wash their hands after they have used a communal space and reminders about the proper way to cough and sneeze. The CDC has a collection of printable resources that cover topics related to stopping the spread of germs. Another effective and inexpensive technique for disease prevention is to provide supplies that encourage desired behavior such as establishing hand sanitizing stations, placing boxes of tissues in communal spaces, and providing a box of tissues at every employee’s desk.
Another way to encourage hygiene is to place sanitation wipes in all communal areas and encourage people to wipe equipment down after using it. Areas where such an approach can be helpful include coffee machines, conference tables, copying and fax machines and other communal equipment that is used more frequently than regular housekeeping staff can make the rounds. While it is also a good idea to require janitorial staff to increase time spent on routine sanitation – paying particular attention to doorknobs and handles, light switches, and elevator buttons in community spaces – continual sanitation by all employees will multiply the attention that is devoted to sanitation.
While these sorts of efforts might seem small, they are actually an important defense against the spread of any sort of illness in the workplace.
It should also be noted that as the spread of COVID-19 has increased, employers are considering more extensive measures that involve allowing workers to work remotely, staggering work hours or providing other means of social distancing, or closing facilities entirely. While in most instances these sorts of measures are not mandatory unless dictated by the local public health authority or other governmental authority, there may be business or public health reasons for adopting such approaches rather than an approach based solely on hygiene.
Last updated March 16
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