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Business, Employees and OSHA

by Roseann Freitas Roseann Freitas | Jul 14, 2020 3:16:05 PM

COVID19 has turned the commerce world upside down. Companies completely shut down their operations, furloughed or laid-off workers, and failed to pay monthly expenses. Now, as these businesses start to reopen, they are facing a new challenge – how to make the workplace safe. 

Recently, employees of Harrah's, MGM Grand, and Bellagio casinos filed a lawsuit against their employers for failure to protect staff from COVID19. In the lawsuit filed by the unions, casino employees sited the company's failure to shut down food and beverage locations, inform employees, and inadequate use of contact tracing after a co-worker tested positive for COVID19.  The issue of safety for employees and customers is a concern, and businesses are looking for guidelines.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn't have a specific standard for SARS-CoV2; however, the General Duty Clause – Section 5 (a) (1) is referenced. The requirement is, "Each employer shall furnish to each of their employees' employment and place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause deaths or serious physical harm." OSHA issued "Guidance on Returning to Work," which is based on information from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and provides a five-step plan business owners should implement.

Providing employees and customers the items needed for washing and sanitizing is part of basic hygiene. Put up posters in employee areas and bathrooms showing proper handwashing techniques.  Identify high traffic areas and surfaces, and then implement procedures on when and how to clean those spaces. Make sure to use EPA-registered disinfectants.

It’s also important to establish social distancing protocols, which include limiting occupancy in store, marking six feet increments in gathering areas, and posting signs showing the flow of traffic. By adding these steps, it minimizes the opportunity for people to get too close.

Have a plan for if an employee becomes sick at work or if they receive a positive COVID19 test. If an employee is still at work, establish a location to isolate the person from the remaining staff. Once the sick employee leaves, clean, and disinfect, the areas impacted. Inform employees if they have been exposed to COVID19 without revealing an ill employee's name.

According to CDC guidelines, a person should quarantine for 14 days if they have been closer than six feet and spent more than 15 minutes with a COVID19 positive person. If you create a health record for each employee, you might be subject to Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records standards, which would require protecting the files and storing them for the duration of employment plus an additional 30 years.  The rule doesn't apply to temperature checks – those are not recorded.

Workplace controls and flexibilities need reviewing. Installing barriers, shields, or an enhanced ventilation system protects from spreading germs. Review work shifts, limit breakroom capacity, promote online meetings, work remotely, and use personal protective equipment (PPE). Do a hazard assessment on each position to determine appropriate PPE requirements. For some industries and jobs, stricter standards apply.

Training your employees is the most crucial step. Without your staff adhering to the process in place, you will not have success. Require your team to wear masks, gloves, sanitize areas both for their protection and the safety your customers. Your staff must understand and implement these careful guidelines.

Protecting your employees and customers is your number one goal during this pandemic. Applaud the employees following the rules - don't punish an employee for following guidelines. Now is not the time to gamble with your business; having a good-faith effort helps minimize the risk to you and your operation.

For more information, tune in for an exclusive webinar hosted by BBB and a local OSHA official answering questions about requirements. Sign up here.

OSHA requirement resources:

OSHA COVID19 - https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/

OSHA State Plans

OSHA Federal plan - https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs

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