Some companies have chosen to make their COVID-19 Preparedness Plan a separate document, while others have just incorporated these new activities into their existing Haz Com plan. Either way is fine as long as you can demonstrate that you are following the applicable OSHA guidance and Executive Orders.
What we are doing, in essence, is looking at COVID-19 as a new hazard introduced into the workplace that can cause death or serious injury. We should treat Covid-19 just like we would any other occupational hazard, and use OSHA’s COVID-19 guidance to help measure the risk posed by certain workstations, sick employees and visitors. Then we determine the steps the employer needs to take to eliminate or reduce this new hazard. These are considered reasonable steps in assessing and abating a hazard. Let’s do a Deeper Dive into What this would look like:
As we know, OSHA requires that employers provide a safe working environment, one that is free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious physical harm. Enforcement is done using the General Duty Clause and other applicable and specific regulations. We typically create a safe workplace by conducting hazard assessments and then developing engineering solutions and procedures on how to abate the hazards and protect employees and people who visit the facility.
If we simply treat COVID-19 as a new serious hazard in the workplace, then the OSHA requirements that we need to consider come into focus. These include hazard assessment, safe work practices and hierarchy of controls (engineering and PPE). We can then prepare a COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan with the recommendations in OSHA’s COVID-19 Preparedness Guide (OSHA 3990). Here are the recommended steps:
We also need to consider Executive Orders that provide insight on required best practices. These best practices fall into five categories:
If it Wasn’t Written Down, Then it Didn’t Happen
This last step is very important. Document everything you do. Remember, the old OSHA adage still applies. “If it is not written down, then it didn’t happen.” In addition to your plan, document and maintain training records, entry screening results and the steps taken to isolate a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, and appropriate notifications to the health department and others. Having appropriate documentation that describes the actions planned and actions taken because of an exposure will be especially important when employees complain to OSHA or an agency conducts an inquiry at your facility. You will need to be able to demonstrate how you provided a place of employment free from recognized hazards, including COVID-19. And you will do that using your written hazard assessment, policies and procedures, engineering controls and required PPE.
Litigation related to COVID-19 injuries, fatalities and human resource issues is an emerging legal market, so it is extremely important that you have a plan and document everything the company has done to provide a safe work environment. Together they will demonstrate the company’s good-faith efforts taken to deal with the new hazard and be useful in resolving compliance or legal disputes when they arise.
Lastly, as restrictions are loosened and we begin to reopen, remember not to get sucked into the free-for-all of not worrying about COVID-19 prevention. Many states are currently re-imposing restrictions after seeing spikes in COVID cases as a result of people not being careful enough. We don’t want to invite this behavior into our businesses. We don’t want to contribute to the infection rate, so it will be important to re-emphasize with employees that they need to stay vigilant at home and at play to prevent the spread of infection to family, friends and co-workers.
Here are some links to useful information and guidance that will help you navigate COVID-19 as you re-open.