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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is assessing and responding to numerous complaints about employee protection from the spread of COVID-19. In an effort to keep everyone informed, OSHA has launched a website that provides information on the prevention of COVID-19, specifically for employers and workers. The website is being updated as more information is learned about the virus and its spread.

While there is no specific OSHA standard to address COVID-19, there are general standards (Personal Protective Equipment and OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030)) that are relevant to protecting workers from the spread of COVID-19. This is a good time to review your policies and to make sure you are operating in compliance with them to minimize the spread of the virus.

In addition, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace, free of recognized hazards. Because of this, employers must stay informed of the risks associated with COVID-19 and address any known hazards. OSHA recommends that employers develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan considering risk factors of exposures. Employers should prepare to implement basic infection prevention measures such as promoting frequent handwashing, encouraging sick workers to stay home, encouraging respiratory etiquette (covering coughs and sneezes), considering alternative work schedules, maintaining regular housekeeping practices, limiting worksites to essential workers when possible and discouraging workers from sharing equipment.

Employers should also have policies and procedures for isolating sick or infected individuals, reporting illnesses and reporting other safety-related concerns. Employers should also consider engineering and administrative controls to limit spread of the virus. While there is no specific requirement for any of these measures, each employer must assess its workplace and workforce and implement a plan that protects its workers.

One question that comes up for many employers is: What do you do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19? Under OSHA’s multi-employer citation policy, both general contractors and subcontractors may be responsible under OSHA if they create or control a hazard, even if their own employees are not exposed to the hazard. Because of this, it is important for general contractors and subcontractors to have a practice or procedure in place to address this issue. There should be an open line of communication between the general contractors and subcontractors to ensure all parties onsite are aware of the potential hazards that may exist.

If a subcontractor has an employee onsite who is symptomatic or tests positive for COVID-19, the subcontractor must follow the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines, which would likely include sending the employee home and sending home for a period of time any co-workers (for that subcontractor, the general contractor, or any other subcontractors onsite) who worked closely with the employee. In an effort to determine all the potentially exposed employees, the subcontractor would need to communicate with the general contractor to ensure that all such employees have knowledge of the potential exposure. Similarly, if a general contractor has an employee who is exposed, the general contractor should communicate with the subcontractors onsite to determine potential exposure of any of their employees.

While this communication is necessary to ensure that employees are aware of the hazards at the workplace, the employer should not share the identity of the person who is infected. However, the employer may provide information on work areas or work tasks in an effort to identify potential exposure.

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