As state stay-at-home orders begin to expire, employers should take steps to protect employees at higher risk of severe illness before reopening, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued specific industry alerts for businesses operating during the COVID-19 pandemic and the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released guidance for office workspaces and logistics and warehousing facilities.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. States began issuing stay-at-home orders after the World Health Organization declared a COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March. Many of those state orders are being lifted.
CDC Reopening “Decision Trees”
CDC released one-page “decision tree” tools for workplaces and restaurants and bars considering reopening during the ongoing pandemic. CDC suggests businesses do not open if they are not prepared to protect employees at higher risk of severe illness. Workers at higher risk include those 65 years or older and those with underlying medical conditions such as moderate to severe asthma or chronic lung disease, serious heart conditions, diabetes, severe obesity (defined as a body mass index of 40 or higher), chronic kidney disease requiring dialysis, liver disease, or those who are immunocompromised by cancer treatment, bone marrow or organ transplantation, smoking, or poorly controlled HIV or AIDS.
The CDC also advised employers to adopt safety, health, and monitoring practices that include:
- Intensifying cleaning, disinfection, and ventilation;
- Promoting hand washing and wearing a cloth face covering;
- Encouraging social distancing by changing workspace layouts, installing physical barriers, closing or limiting access to communal spaces, staggering shifts and breaks, limiting large events, or supporting telework;
- Modifying travel and commuting practices;
- Developing and implementing procedures to check for signs and symptoms in employees upon arrival and encouraging anyone who is sick to stay home, as well as monitoring employee absences and instituting flexible leave policies and practices; and
- Regularly communicating and monitoring developments with local authorities and remaining ready to consult with local health authorities if there are cases in the facility or an increase of cases in the local area.
CDC recommends businesses and employers meet all the recommended safeguards first before reopening.
OSHA suggested that nursing homes and long-term care facilities instruct residents, visitors and workers maintain a distance of 6 feet and stagger break times to avoid crowding breakrooms. The agency also recommended continually monitoring personal protective equipment (PPE) stocks, burn rate, and supply chains; developing a process for decontamination and reuse of PPE, such as face shields and goggles; and ensuring workers have and use any PPE they need to perform their jobs safely. It also recommended using hospital-grade cleaning chemicals on the Environmental Protection Agency’s List N.
OSHA suggested that retail pharmacies:
- Install clear plastic barriers between workers and customers at order and pickup counters;
- Use signage and floor markings to keep waiting customers at least six feet from the counter, other customers, and pharmacy staff;
- Provide drive-through or curbside pickup and home delivery, where feasible;
- Encourage customers to submit prescriptions online or by phone and allow customers to provide their insurance information verbally or virtually;
- Increase the use of self-serve checkout to minimize worker interaction with customers and limit the number of customers allowed inside the facility at any point;
- Frequently clean and disinfect checkout and customer service counters;
- Provide employees a place to wash hands and alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol; and
- Allow workers to wear cloth face coverings or surgical masks over their nose and mouth to prevent them from spreading the virus and provide gloves and eye and face protection, as necessary, for workers in the pharmacy.
OSHA’s guidance for the car services industry reiterated advice about cleaning and disinfecting surfaces with EPA-approved chemicals and installing physical barriers like a plexiglass partition between the driver and passengers. The agency suggested employers provide drivers with alcohol-based hand rubs and allow drivers to wear a mask over their mouths and noses.
The Cal/OSHA and CDPH guidelines echoed many of the recommendations out of the CDC and OSHA, including cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces with EPA-approved chemicals, cloth face coverings, handwashing, and physical distancing. California instructed employers to develop written, worksite-specific COVID-19 prevention plans and designate an employee for implementing the plan at each site. Cal/OSHA has an injury and illness prevention plan (IIPP) standard for which there is no federal counterpart.
Cal/OSHA also instructed employers to train employees in facts about COVID-19, how it is spread, signs and symptoms, and when to stay home or seek medical attention.