From Legal News and Analysis on Coronavirus:
For Employers: Coronavirus and US Safety and Health Law
The coronavirus, and the illness caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19, are dominating headlines, stock markets and daily conversation. They are also raising many questions—and employers inVirus the U.S. are facing one such critical question: How do we help ensure the health and safety of our employees? Squire Patton Boggs helps provide some answers below.
Nearly all employers in the U.S. have a statutory duty to comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated by the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). . . . Therefore, it is important for employers to know and understand what specific OSHA standards may be implicated by and apply to the coronavirus.
In addition, nearly all employers in the U.S. have a statutory duty to “furnish to each of his employees 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 his employees.” As the coronavirus spreads, and invariably becomes more of a recognized hazard in the workplace every day, employers should evaluate their current health and safety protocols and implement additional best practices, as needed, to help ensure a safe work environment.
Occupational Safety and Health Standards
OSHA does not have a standard specific for the coronavirus or COVID-19. However, per agency comments thus far, it is possible that OSHA could attempt to use and enforce a variety of current OSHA standards to the extent that coronavirus presents an occupational exposure risk. Thus, employers should be aware of and familiarize themselves with the following OSHA standards:
- The General Duty (referenced above) to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards. This standard requires employers to take reasonable steps to ensure a safe and healthy work environment. Such reasonable steps could include providing information regarding coronavirus and COVID-19 to employees, developing a safety and health policy, communicating and training employees on the policy, and enforcing that policy.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards, which generally require the use of gloves, eye and face protection and respiratory protection. When respiratory protection is necessary, employers must implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program in accordance with the Respiratory Protection standard. The Respiratory Protection standard is technical and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
- Recordkeeping standards require covered employers to record certain work-related injuries and illnesses. While the common cold and flu are not required to be recorded, OSHA’s current position is that COVID-19 is required to be recorded when an employee is infected with coronavirus and falls ill in the course of employment.
- General Environmental Control standards cover specific requirements for workplace sanitation, including general housekeeping, waste disposal and washing facilities.
- The Bloodborne Pathogens standard applies to occupational exposure to human blood. While the coronavirus is not presently known to be transmitted through bloodborne pathogens, OSHA advises that this standard could still provide a framework for controlling coronavirus exposure to the extent transmitted via bodily fluids more generally.
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