How OSHA Affects SMBs During the Coronavirus

OSHA has released special guidance for small and medium-sized businesses, based on mainstream infection protection and prevention best practices.

how-OSHA-affects-SMBs-during-the-coronavirus
Employers should follow OSHA’s guidelines to achieve safety and health in the workplace, and update their strategies on limiting coronavirus exposure

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released special guidance for opening and operating during the coronavirus, stressing that these guidelines are not standard, regulation, or indicative of any new legal requirements for businesses of any size.

The best resource for small businesses in relation to these guidelines is the new, no cost, on-site “Safety and Health Consultation Services for Small Business.” This complimentary service allows small and medium-sized business owners in every state direct access to an OSHA expert to address their unique concerns. OSHA grants priority to high-hazard workplaces. These consultations will not result in any type of citation from OSHA and operate completely separately from enforcement visits.

Those interested in scheduling a consultation or learning more can call OSHA at (800) 321-6742 or visit the OSHA website. The consultation program also offers what is deemed an “exemplary employer” participation in the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, and these work sites are exempt from inspections as long as they maintain SHARP status.

OSHA stresses that the coronavirus guidelines are informational, advisory, and simply mean to help employers achieve safety and health in the workplace.

OSHA stresses that the coronavirus guidelines are informational, advisory, and are meant to help employers achieve safety and health in the workplace. Now and prior to the pandemic, OSHA’s “General Duty Clause” demands that all employees work in a space that is free from high-risk hazards that can cause serious physical harm or death.

This now means that all employers should create plans for COVID-19, including updating strategies to reflect specific coronavirus exposure risks. All employers should prepare for a potential outbreak in the workplace. OSHA’s guidance is based on mainstream infection protection and prevention best practices and highlights employers’ needs to implement work practice controls, engineering, and administrative guidelines.

Planning ahead with OSHA

According to OSHA, businesses should plan for typical results that occur during an outbreak, including absenteeism. Absenteeism is liable to spike, even after safe reopening measures, due to employee illness, caring for ill family members, or having at-risk people at home like immunocompromised family members. Some employees will simply be too afraid to work.

Another typical result during a pandemic is a change in commerce patterns, such as some employers who provide respirators facing unprecedented consumer demands. Other consumer demands may decline, such as takeout orders at restaurants. Retailers might see an increase in shoppers at non-peak hours. It’s also important to plan for interrupted supply and deliveries, with shipments from certain areas delayed or even canceled with little to no notification. Planning for these typical results can help employers streamline new processes.

Employers also need to take measures to minimize everyone’s risk of exposure. Every employer should have an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan in place based on local, state, federal, and other regional recommendations. Considerations in this plan should include risk levels of certain sites or jobs — such as how likely an employee will have exposure to COVID-19.

These risk levels can be based on international travel or high contact with the general public. Companies should also assess a worker’s individual risk factor, such as age or known immunocompromised conditions.

Employers should also discuss means of controlling outbreaks, and utilize such measures when needed. These include:

  • Social distancing
  • Downsizing
  • Staggered work shifts
  • Remote delivery

Every employer should have an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan in place based on local, state, federal, and other regional recommendations.

What employers can do

Most workplaces should implement OSHA’s “Basic Infection Prevention Measures” to further protect workers. This includes infection control practices like encouraging frequent, thorough handwashing with ample places to do so (or alcohol hand rubs as an alternative), encouraging workers to stay home if they don’t feel well, and encouraging “respiratory etiquette” like training on best practices for covering sneezing.

Any customers or the public should also have plenty of tissues and trash bins available. New practices during the pandemic for operating a business may need implementation, like offering telecommuting, flex schedules, or unique social distancing strategies that suit the job site. Rules to keep cross-contamination in check, such as discouraging shared desks or job tools, can help increase safety.

Cleaning and disinfectant products should be EPA-approved and designed for viruses that are particularly difficult to kill, like the coronavirus.

Companies should enforce routine and thorough housekeeping best practices, including regular and proper cleaning of all surfaces and equipment. The selection of cleaning chemicals is important, and all employers should consider the Environmental Protection Agency’s disinfectant recommendations for viral pathogens.

Cleaning and disinfectant products should be EPA-approved and designed for viruses that are particularly difficult to kill, like the coronavirus.

Ill workers

In some cases and situations, employers may need to act quickly to identify and isolate ill workers. This is critical to stop the spread of COVID-19. Companies should regularly encourage self-monitoring of illnesses, and a policy should be in place if there’s suspicion that a worker has been exposed.

Those who are potentially infected and cannot leave the job site should be isolated away from everyone else. Isolation rooms are ideal, but OSHA realizes this is unlikely. Makeshift isolation areas, such as any room with a closable door, should be available until the person can safely go home or to a healthcare facility.

Of course, personal protective equipment and best practices remain critical for workers. Employers should provide this equipment when possible and encourage or require it at all times.

To learn more about OSHA recommendations, visit the official guidelines site.

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