OSHA Issues General and Industry-Specific Guidance For Operating During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

As businesses look to adapt their workplaces to provide for safer operation during this public health emergency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released industry-specific guidance to help the construction, manufacturing, package delivery, and retail industries protect their workers and customers from the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). The guidance builds on OSHA’s previously issued 10 Steps All Workplaces Can Take to Reduce Risk of Exposure to Coronavirus, a copy of which can be found here. Together, OSHA’s 10 Steps and industry-specific guidance provide all employers with detailed examples of the types of protective measures that might be suitable for their workplace.

OSHA’s 10 Steps reflects the new-normal of the workplace, at least temporarily, and serves as a baseline for all employers. It highlights many of the protections that federal, state and local governments have been preaching since the outbreak of this public health emergency, and includes the following general recommendations:

  • Encourage workers to stay home if sick.
  • Establish flexible worksites, e.g. telecommuting.
  • Establish flexible work hours, e.g. staggered shifts.
  • Provide places for workers to wash hands with warm water and soap, or alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Discourage workers from using other workers’ desks, phones, tools and other equipment.

OSHA’s industry-specific guidance adds several not so industry-specific measures to this baseline, recommending that all four industries allow workers to wear masks over their noses and mouths, provide training to workers on the proper use of PPE and other workplace hygiene controls, and use appropriately labeled EPA-approved cleaning supplies to disinfect the workplace on a regular basis.

More particularized recommendations are detailed in each industry-specific guidance. For the construction industry, a copy of which can be found here, the guidance includes:

  • To the extent that tools and equipment must be shared, provide and instruct workers to use alcohol-based wipes to clean tools before and after use.
  • To the extent that trailers are used, social distancing should be maintained inside the trailers.
  • The duration of in-person meetings, including toolbox and safety meetings, should be as short as possible, with a limited number of attendees, and with social distancing.
  • Portable jobsite toilets should be cleaned and thoroughly disinfected regularly.

For the manufacturing industry, found here, the guidance includes:

  • Consider temporarily relocating workstations to create more distance between them, or installing barriers, e.g. plexiglass shields, between workstations.

For the package delivery industry, found here, the guidance includes:

  • Minimize the interaction between drivers and customers by leaving deliveries at loading docks, doorsteps or other locations that do not require person-to-person interaction.

For the retail industry, found here, the guidance includes:

  • Consider using tape on floors to encourage customers to maintain social distancing.
  • Consider using only every other register to maintain social distancing for customers and workers.
  • Use a drive-up window or curbside delivery, where possible.
  • Provide customers and workers with tissues and receptacles.

Neither OSHA’s general guidance, nor industry-specific guidance, creates a new legal obligation. Employers, however, are well-served to view the guidance as reflective of OSHA’s current thinking of the types of measures that employers should evaluate to meet their statutory duty under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which requires employers to provide workers with a place of employment “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

OSHA’s first guidance on coronavirus, Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, published March 9, found here, recommended that every employer develop an individualized infectious disease response plan assessing levels of exposure by worksite and job duties. The general recommendations announced in OSHA’s 10 Steps and the newly released industry-specific guidance exemplify the types of workplace changes that employers should consider as part of their individualized infectious disease plan.

All OSHA guidance and other statements concerning coronavirus in the workplace are available at osha.gov.

This summary is not intended to contain legal advice or to be an exhaustive review. If you have any questions regarding this article, please contact David L. Kelleher at Jackson & Campbell, P.C.