OHSA’s Latest Return To Work Guidelines

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has put together guidelines to help employers and workers safely return to work and reopen their businesses as allowed by local and state authorities. The guidelines supplement guidelines from the US Department of Labor, the US Department of Health and Human Services and White House guidelines. The OSHA guidelines focus on developing and implementing strategies for:

  • Basic hygiene (e.g., hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfection)
  • Social distancing
  • Identification and isolation of sick employees
  • Workplace controls and flexibilities
  • Employee training

In general, reopening should “align with the lifting of stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders and other specific requirements of the Federal Government and state, local, tribal, and/or territorial (SLTT) governments across the United States, as well as with public health recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal requirements or guidelines.”

The CDC provides the latest information about the COVID-19 pandemic at: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov.

Employers should continue to consider workplace alternatives such as working remotely (telework), curbside pickup, and other arrangements. 

OSHA phases for reopening

OSHA uses the following phase categories for reopening:

  • Phase 1. Here, business should consider telework. If workers do return to work, the number of workers should be limited and strict social distancing guidelines should be implemented. Specific attention should be given to workers in high-risk categories such as elder workers and people with serious underlying health problems. Companies should also consider special accommodations for workers “with household members at higher risk of severe illness.” “Non-essential business travel should be limited.” 
  • Phase 2: In this phase, telework should still be encouraged but “non-essential business travel” can start. Strict social distancing rules should still be practiced – but the limits on the number of workers can be eased – depending on the nature of the business. Special consideration should still be given to vulnerable workers.
  • Phase 3: Here, businesses resume unrestricted staffing of work sites.

Guiding Principle Examples of How to Implement

OSHA provides numerous examples of employer guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

Hazard assessment. This includes determining where, when, how and what sources of the diseases – workers are likely to be exposed to while working. This includes assessing the various job tasks. The assessment can be done at the desktop. Some things to consider include:

  • Exposures from members of the public (e.g., customers, visitors) with whom workers interact
  • Exposures from close contact with other workers
  • The current status of the disease in the community

Hygiene. Hygiene includes best practices for:

  • Washing hands
  • Respiratory etiquette
  • Cleaning
  • Disinfection

Employers should provide “soap, water, and paper towels for workers, customers, and visitors to wash their hands, and encourage frequent and proper (for at least 20 seconds) handwashing.”

They should also provide “hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol and encourage workers to use it frequently when they cannot readily wash their hands.

Additionally, employers should work to identify surfaces that are touched frequently and high-traffic areas. These surfaces/areas should be targeted for additional cleaning and disinfecting. – using approved EPA products and CDC guidelines.

Social distancing. This safety category includes best practices for keeping workers and others (customers and visitors) at a safe distance from each other – generally, at least six feet. OSHA’s social distancing guidelines recommend:

  • That business limits the number of occupants so that workers and customers can work and react at safe social distances
  • “Demarcate flooring in six-feet zones in key areas where workers, customers, or visitors would ordinarily congregate (i.e., restrooms, check-out lines, areas with time clocks) to encourage people to keep appropriate social distance between themselves and others.”
  • Post signs alerting workers, visitors, and customer to stay at least six feet apart
  • Place directional signs in corridors and hallways – where the width of the hallways/corridors is less than six feet

Identification and isolation of sick employees. This category includes best practices for self-monitoring and screening of workers and isolating and excluding from the workplace any employees with signs or symptoms of COVID-19.

OSHA recommends:

  • That employers ask employees to self-evaluate for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 before going to work. If the worker doesn’t feel well, he/she should stay home. 
  • Employers should set protocols for managing people who do become ill during work – such as where they can be isolated if they can’t leave work immediately – and when they need transportation from work to their home or a medical facility. These protocols include cleaning and disinfecting any place the ill person has worked in – “to prevent exposure to other workers, customers, or visitors” Employers may need to work with SLTT health officials – “to facilitate contact tracing and notification related to COVID-19 cases or possible exposures.”

Return to work after illness or exposure. This includes returning to work after recovering from COVID-19 and after completing any self-quarantined that was recommended – due to exposure to someone who had the disease. In this case, OSHA recommends that employers follow CDC guidelines for stopping self-isolation and returning to work – or ending self-quarantine and monitoring after an exposure – keeping the type of workplace is mind.

Employers should ensure that workers “who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 routinely monitor themselves or receive monitoring, including for signs and/or symptoms of potential illness, at work, in accordance with CDC guidance.

Workplace flexibilities. This category includes people working remotely and on sick leave. Employers should review current policies and, if necessary, consider new ones to make working from home easier and otherwise minimize worker’s exposure risks if they have another illness. Employers should make sure workers understand remote workplace options along with other option such as fatigue management.

Controls. This category includes “engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) selected as a result of an employer’s hazard assessment.”

Employers should choose and implement:

  • Engineering controls – such as physical barriers to separate workers and better ventilation
  • Administrative controls – such as staggering work shifts and using video-conferencing – along with cloth face masks “to contain respiratory secretions.” Administrative controls also include “providing and ensuring workers use appropriate PPE, identified through hazard assessments and in accordance with OSHA’s standards,”

At the California Law Offices of Stephen A. Danz and Associates, we understand how scary the COVID-19 pandemic for employees and independent contractors. We are working to keep abreast of the current federal and California guidelines – as they affect all workers. To learn if you have an employee rights claim because an employer didn’t protect your health, call us at 877-789-9707 or use our online contact form to make an appointment. Se habla espanol.