The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued interim guidance for enforcing its recordkeeping requirements for cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that occur in workplaces.
The guidance clarifies under what circumstances non-essential employers in low-risk industries (e.g. construction) should record a case of COVID-19 on a job site as an illness, since it can be difficult for those employers to determine whether workers who contract the virus did so due to exposure at work.
According to the guidance, OSHA won’t enforce its recordkeeping requirements for employers in low-risk industries unless there is “reasonably available” objective evidence that an infection may be work related. Under those circumstances, employers will be required to log confirmed cases that involve one or more of OSHA’s general recording criteria, such as medical treatment beyond first aid or sick days.
If several workers carpool to work together every day, for example, and one is diagnosed with COVID-19, and then a second carpooling worker is also diagnosed, that would be considered objective evidence that the transmission is work related. However, if both workers went to the same gathering where someone was COVID-19 positive, then the employer can use that as evidence to determine the cases are not work related.
The interim guidance is essentially saying employers can use whatever information is reasonably available to them in deciding whether a COVID-19 case is recordable. If a worker misses work, takes paid sick leave, provides a sick note, tries to claim workers’ compensation benefits, or provides information that indicates an infection didn’t occur at work—these are all things an employer can use in deciding whether a coronavirus illness is work related.
OSHA’s guidance doesn’t apply to employers in healthcare, emergency response organizations, and correctional institutions. Those employers must continue to make work-related determinations using the agency’s general recording criteria.
In addition to the interim guidance, OSHA also set forth guidelines for all employers to follow in order to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. It includes:
- Developing an infectious disease response plan that identifies sources of exposure, considers the employees’ individual risk factors, and implements federal and state recommendations for preventing workplace outbreaks
- Implementing basic infection prevention measures such as frequent hand washing by workers, customers, and visitors; encouraging symptomatic workers to self-quarantine; establishing flexible work hours to increase physical distance among employees; and maintaining routine cleaning and disinfecting of shared equipment and spaces.
- Installing workplace controls such as physical barriers, high-efficiency air filters, and hand-washing signs in restrooms.
- Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees based on their exposure risk.
OSHA’s enforcement policy is meant to help employers focus their response efforts on mitigating COVID-19’s effects. You can learn more about the agency’s guidance for recording coronavirus cases in the workplace here.
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