OSHA Issues New Guidance to Employers in Wake of Threats Coronavirus Poses in The Workplace: Are You at Risk of Developing an Occupational Disease?
As there is more infection and panic surrounding the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic each day, crucial questions involving what basic steps employers (and also property owners) need to take in order to ensure that they are not behaving negligently in terms of forcing employees to come into work if they are in imminent danger of getting sick there and failing to take steps to respond to the crisis from a premises liability perspective have come up. As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released new guidance on the issue in March. Ultimately, there are now serious inquiries surrounding whether employers should allow certain employees to telecommute, as well as cancel certain events, as well as what other measures should be taken in order to further basic infection prevention.
The relevant law that applies in this case is the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which dictates that employers must provide employees with a work environment that is free from hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm (which, as we know, exposure to the coronavirus can cause).
The Virus: What We Know
As of now, experts believe that the virus spreads from person-to-person between people who are in close contact with each other (i.e. within approximately six feet of each other) through respiratory droplets when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes. If these droplets land in an uninfected person’s nose or mouth, and are inhaled into the lungs, that can lead to infection. It is also thought that touching surfaces that contain the virus, and then touching one’s nose, mouth, etc. can possibly spread the virus.
OSHA’s Recommended Basic Steps to Reduce Exposure to The Virus
OSHA has suggested that all employers take the following basic steps in order to reduce workers’ risk of exposure to the virus. These same recommendations arguably apply to property owners and businesses who invite customers onto their properties as well in order to take basic measures to protect the public health:
- Develop an infection disease preparedness and response plan that is specific to your workers’ and/or customers’ individual risk factors (for example, older workers, those with particular immunocompromised conditions, etc.)
- In order to implement basic infection prevention, promote frequent and thorough handwashing, encourage workers to stay home if sick, encourage covering coughs and sneezes, explore flexible policies, such as telecommuting and/or allowing for flexible work hours in order to promote physical distancing, ensure routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, etc. This includes no longer requiring a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness and maintaining flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for sick family members
- Develop policies and procedures for promptly identifying and isolating those who are sick
If You Have Questions About Hazards in Texas Work Environments, Contact Our Attorneys
Ultimately, failing to put together a plan and the appropriate protective measures in place can increase the risk of harm to not only workers, but also customers if your workplace involves that type of business. Also note that any incidents of employees contracting this virus at work are recordable and subject to the same fines as other injuries and illnesses, as imposed by OSHA.
If you have any questions about health hazards, illnesses, occupational diseases, or injuries that you have been exposed to in the workplace, contact our Houston workplace injury attorneys at The West Law Office today to find out more about your rights and options.