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Who is OSHA?
OSHA is an acronym for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a government agency of the United States Department of Labor. This agency was created under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The OSHA Act covers most private-sector employers, some public-sector employers, and workers.
Under OSHA law, workers are entitled to a safe workplace, and their employers are responsible and obligated to provide it. This means a workplace devoid of serious hazards (where possible) and an adherence to OSHA's safety and health standards.
OSHA during COVID-19
During the COVID-19 outbreak, OSHA expects all employers to make an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan--if they haven't already--for employees' safety and health by identifying specific exposure risks, sources of exposure, transmission routes, and other characteristics of this virus. Employers should plan for the possibility that the outbreak worsens. This ensures that there are adequate resources, and workers are trained to perform their jobs under pandemic conditions.
OSHA guidance is based on industrial hygiene practices and traditional infection prevention. It is mainly looking at implementing practice controls and PPE at the engineering, administrative, and work levels. Employers must identify risk areas in the workplace and determine appropriate measures for the protection of employees.
There are no new regulations or legal requirements for employers. The existing regulations also have not been altered. Employers should see the new threat of COVID-19 as an additional potential hazard and protect against it.
What are OSHA Requirements for PPE?
OSHA's personal protective equipment (PPE) standards for general industry (29 CFR 1910) and construction (29 CFR 1926 Subpart E) requires gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection when needed.
According to the Respiratory Protection standard, if respirators are necessary, employers must provide a full respiratory protection program (29 CFR 1910.134).
The Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) deals with occupational exposure to human blood and other potentially infectious materials. The 'other materials' don't usually include respiratory secretions. Still, the standard can form a structure within which an employer may protect employees against the virus's sources, including body fluids (respiratory secretions).
Employers must ensure that employees know:
- The differences between seasonal epidemics and global pandemic outbreaks.
- Which job activities put them at increased risk of exposure.
- The social distancing strategies at work
- What PPE is available to them, and how to use, clean, and store it away properly.
- Good hygiene and disinfection instructions. i.e., hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, clean work surfaces, etc.
- Working remote options or flexible leave policies when sick
- Medical services (vaccinations, medications, etc.) available to them
- How supervisors will give updates on pandemic-related information, and who will answer their questions
There may be additional OSHA requirements and standards from state to state. Employers must ensure they comply with both national and state regulations.
COVID-19 has changed our workplaces. Check out this COVID-19 Training Packet to make your workplace a safe place.
Other Standards and Requirements That May Apply
Here are more of OSHA's standards that may be applicable. Please recognize that in this context, the overarching hazard is COVID-19.
1 Hazard-free Workplace
Employers must provide a work environment that is free of serious hazards, as determined by OSHA. Employers are responsible for complying with all of the rules, regulations, and standards the OSHA Act has issued.
2 Alert Workers of Potential Hazards
Employers should use safety signs, labels, color coding, and posters to warn employees of potential hazards.
3 Tools and Equipment
Employers must provide tools and equipment on the job that are safe and well-maintained.
4 PPE (29 CFR 1910)
Employers must provide employees with PPE that is well-fitted and protective (at no cost to the employee)
5 Awareness of Employee Rights
Employers should post the OSHA poster in a prominent location in the workplace, so workers are aware of their rights under OSHA.
Employers must provide safety training for employees in a language and vocabulary that they can understand.
After an inspection with a compliance officer, employers are obligated to fix any violations found promptly.
If a citation is issued during an inspection, the offense must be posted in and around the violation area.
9 Right of Access
Employees have the right to access the Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses.
10 Whistleblower Protection
Employers cannot retaliate, punish, or discriminate against any employee who files a complaint.
11 Develop, Implement, and Establish
Employers are obliged to develop, implement, and establish procedures and communicate OSHA's requirements to their employees.
12 Record and Report (29 CFR 1904)
Employers must record and report any occupational illnesses and injuries - this now includes cases of COVID-19.
Make sure your employees feel safe on the job, that their voices are heard, and their concerns matter. Our Arrow Up safety programs will get you started on the right foot.
It’s important that as we deal with this pandemic, employers recognize and uphold their requirement to provide safe working environments for their employees. Employers should research and comply with all of OSHA’s standards related to PPE, hazard communications, and safety and health practices in the workplace. As earlier stated, these are not new standards, but applicable standards should be adapted to include the hazard of COVID-19.
Workers who feel safe at work are more likely to return despite pandemic conditions. Employers who take steps to ensure a safe working environment will have fewer sick employees and will be able to thrive even during these difficult times.