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April 29, 2020

OSHA’s Involvement in the SARS-COV-2 Pandemic

By Dan Bracey, CSP, CHMM


While the entire world is now faced with this unprecedented event, here in the United States we have been hit hard in all aspects of our society, from economic uncertainty to emotional health.  As a result, one of the last things on the mind of most decision-makers in a business are OSHA standards and worker safety.  Of course, you care about the safety of your people, but when you are trying to keep the lights on, it can be difficult to have safety be a number one priority.  While OSHA has taken some drastic steps to reduce enforcement actions, such as waiving certain respirator fit-testing requirements for N95 respirators and other filtering facepieces, it is still something that may be as important as ever.  It is up to safety professionals, as well as OSHA and state-run environmental health and safety departments, to keep safety top of mind for management in order to protect workers.  But how do you narrow that focus so we can continue to run a business and maintain the safety of workers?

  • Stay up to date on the ever-evolving OSHA standards.  OSHA has a webpage dedicated to the SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic that is highly intuitive and is  one of the best sources for regulatory updates.
  • Use this time to update your written safety programs.  For instance, do you have an Exposure Control Plan for your janitorial staff to prevent exposure to SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19)?
  • Even though OSHA has waived certain requirements associated with fit-testing of N95 respirators and other filtering facepieces, you should probably exercise caution at all work places to not to take this for granted.  If you can fit-test, continue to do so.  The interim standard has several provisions that could open you, and your business, up to additional enforcement actions.
  • Continue to follow your company’s injury/illness/near miss reporting procedure, particularly when it comes to exposures of SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19).  Proper documentation and root-cause analysis will reduce the risk of additional infections in your workplace and allow for a proper response.
  • If you are a company responding to clean an area after a confirmed or presumptive case of SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19), you are very likely required to have your responding employees trained as per OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard.  A biological hazard IS considered a hazardous substance under the HAZWOPER standard.
  • Training employees can be difficult right now; however, a reputable company can help you train employees during this time.  There are several means for virtual training and, when used properly, these can be just as effective as in-person training methods.  Additionally, training your janitorial staff or cleaning crew should also be a priority to ensure their safety.  The mixing of incompatible chemicals, overlooking safety data sheets (SDS) for cleaning chemicals, and improper training on response actions can be recipes for easily avoidable disasters.

Finally, if you find that you and your business need some guidance during this time, or you are simply too overwhelmed to deal with regulatory compliance concerns, please seek out the help of an experienced Health and Safety expert.  Partner Engineering and Science Inc.’s Health and Safety professionals can assist your business by breaking down OSHA standards to give your business a path to compliance, providing training including OSHA HAZWOPER, Exposure control/bloodborne pathogens, and hazard communication, and working with your business and its individual needs to identify potential risks, associated regulatory compliance concerns, and worker safety.

OSHA COVID-19 Webpage:

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