OSHA urges employers to take measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
OSHA has released a guidance about best practices for COVID-19 and the workplace. The “Guidance for Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19” planning guidance is based on traditional infection prevention and industrial hygiene practices. It focuses on the need for employers to implement engineering, administrative, and work practice controls and personal protective equipment (PPE).
For employers who have already planned for influenza pandemics, planning for COVID-19 may involve updating plans. These plans could address the specific exposure risks, sources of exposure, routes of transmission, and other unique characteristics of SARS-CoV-2.
Employers who have not prepared for pandemic events can still take steps to prepare their workplaces and workers. It’s not too late to create a business continuity plan. In addition, provide cross-functional training for workers so that they can step in for quarantined coworkers if necessary.
How COVID-19 Spreads
The first human cases of COVID-19 likely resulted from exposure to infected animals. However, the virus spreas mainly from person-to-person, including:
- Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
- Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land on people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
- It may be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that COVID-19 is stable for several hours to days in aerosols and on surfaces.
People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (i.e., experiencing fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath). Spread of the virus is possible before people show symptoms.
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How Your Workplace Might Be Impacted
Similar to influenza viruses, COVID-19 has the potential to cause extensive outbreaks. As a result, workplaces may experience:
Absenteeism. Workers could be absent because they are sick; are caregivers for sick family members; are caregivers for children if schools or day care centers are closed; have at-risk people at home, such as immunocompromised family members; or are afraid to come to work because of fear of possible exposure.
Change in patterns of commerce. Consumer demand for items related to infection prevention such as respirators and disposable gloves is likely to increase significantly. Consumers may also change shopping patterns because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Consumers may shop at off-peak hours, show increased interest in home delivery services, or use drive-through service to reduce person-to-person contact.
Interrupted supply/delivery. Shipments of items from geographic areas severely affected by COVID-19 may be delayed or canceled with or without notification.
Basic Covid-19 Infection Prevention Measures in the Workplace
For most employers, protecting workers will depend on emphasizing basic infection prevention measures. As appropriate, all employers should implement good hygiene and infection control practices. These include promoting frequent hand washing by providing workers, customers, and work site visitors with a place to wash their hands. Provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and running water are not immediately available, p . Encourage workers to stay home if they are sick. Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes. Provide tissues and trash receptacles.
OSHA encourages employers to explore new workplace policies and practices. For example, use telecommuting and flexible work hours such as staggered shifts to increase the physical distance among employees. OSHA suggests discouraging workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible.
Employers should maintain housekeeping practices. These include cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment. When choosing cleaning chemicals, employers should consult EPA-approved disinfectant labels with claims against emerging viral pathogens. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use of all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., concentration, application method and contact time, PPE).