The Basics of OSHA's COVID-19 Workplace Safety Guidance

Understanding OSHA's COVID-19 Workplace Safety Guidance

The emergence of COVID-19 in 2020 resulted in swift changes to workplace safety. For many organizations, the months following the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were filled with confusion and frustration as they scrambled to create COVID-19 workplace guidelines that would protect their employees while adhering to OSHA regulations. 

Fortunately, existing OSHA regulations concerning respiratory health, toxins, and exposure to biohazards line up nicely with the steps needed to ensure a safe workforce in the era of COVID-19 and social distancing, and OSHA was quick to make both general and industry-specific recommendations for combating COVID in the workplace. 

General OSHA Regulations Regarding COVID-19

Industrial best practices concerning COVID-19 protection will, of course, vary from industry to industry, and OSHA regulations recognize this. Some COVID-19 workplace guidelines are, however, universal. Ten factors, in particular, apply to all workplaces, and include:

    1. Encourage Workers to Stay Home if Sick: Some employees will “tough it out” when they feel ill, arguing that it’s “just a cold,” or the flu. This is problematic at the best of times (a flu outbreak can seriously impair a facility’s productivity) but is especially concerning during a pandemic. Some facilities require employees to take their temperature and answer a checklist of wellness questions before going to work. If high temperatures or other symptoms are reported, the employee has to phone in sick until their symptoms pass.
  • Practicing Respiratory Etiquette: OSHA recommends teaching employees how to prevent the spread of airborne disease particles. This includes the use of masks where possible, coughing or sneezing into one’s elbow, and avoiding breathing or coughing on fellow employees. Social distancing in the workplace helps maintain respiratory etiquette.
  • Provide Disinfectant/Hand Washing Stations: The most effective defense against COVID-19 is frequent handwashing with soap and water. If frequent handwashing is not practical in the workplace, employees should have access to alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Limit Worksite Access: Every person present in your worksite represents a potential COVID-19 vector. Limit your workplace to essential employees. Now is not the time for site visits from potential partners, “bring your child to work” days, or any other activity that introduces unnecessary bodies to your worksite.
  • Flexible Worksites/Work Hours: If possible, allow your workforce to work remotely. Video conferencing, project management software and similar services make working from home viable for most office staff. In circumstances where telecommuting is not an option, such as manufacturing work floors, consider staggered shifts to reduce the number of employees on the floor at any one time.
  • Discourage Sharing: We’ve been taught since kindergarten that sharing is commendable, but this life lesson doesn’t consider pandemics. Employees should not share phones, desks, work tools, or similar equipment.
  • Regular Cleaning: As we still don’t know exactly how long COVID survives outside the body, worksite cleaning is one of the most important COVID-19 workplace guidelines. All surfaces, equipment, and tools should be cleaned regularly, a process which may require your janitorial and maintenance staff to be trained on proper COVID-19 cleaning practices.
  • Use EPA-Approved Cleaning Chemicals: When cleaning, OSHA recommends only using EPA-approved chemical cleaners with labels claiming effectiveness against coronavirus.
  • Follow Manufacturer’s Instructions: Proper cleaning and disinfecting require carefully following the instructions for use on all cleaning and disinfection products.
  • Reporting Health and Safety Concerns: All employees should be encouraged to report any health and safety issues, including violations of COVID-19 workplace guidelines.

  • OSHA Regulations and Employer Responsibilities

    The General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to provide each employee with "employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm." This requirement extends to a workplace as free of COPVID-19 as is possible. 

    In addition to general OSHA regulations concerning COVID-19, employers should check for any regulations specific to their industry. Health care and food preparation facilities, for instance, may have to meet additional COVID-19 workplace guidelines. 

    Training during the COVID-19 Pandemic

    Employee training continues to be necessary, but employees understandably balk at the risks involved with travel and offsite training during a pandemic. One option is to bring the instructor to your facility, rather than your employees to the classroom. Onsite instructors have the advantage of access to your facility’s processes and equipment and can customize course materials to reflect your facility’s needs.

    Virtual and live online training provide another way to safely train employees during the pandemic. Thanks to advances in videoconferencing and simulation training, live online training provides all the benefits of a face-to-face classroom while reinforcing social distancing. 

    TPC Training offers live onsite training, virtual instructor-led training, and a library of comprehensive safety training courses, including how to guard against COVID-19. contact us today and we’ll help you meet your employee training requirements and improve your compliance with important OSHA regulations.


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