The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently published a thorough and usable webpage that provides interim guidance and resources for preventing exposure to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, and for learning more about the developing information on that outbreak. That page provides an overview of the ever-expanding situation, and lists numerous resources and links to information for protecting workers from occupational exposure, including instructions on protecting workers during a pandemic, should this virus become one.
While US employers are still struggling to understand their responsibilities with respect to the outbreak, multinational employers are dealing with government-imposed travel restrictions and other issues related to global mobility See, “The Coronavirus Outbreak’s Impact on International Employers,” written by members of Ogletree’s Cross-Border Practice Group. The article summarizes key developments in China and Hong Kong, and spells out considerations for international employers. Some of those points apply to US employers, as well, especially those companies that have employees who recently have traveled to China, or have family members who have visited the US from China in the past few weeks.
The basic information that is being shared by the OSHA, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) overlaps in a number of ways. All of the information is to allow employees to be educated on the circumstances of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus outbreak, and to inform them about actions that can be taken to minimize risk.
Clear communication by employers promotes employee confidence. Therefore, according to OSHA, employers should consider sharing the following information with their workforces:
- Which job activities may put them at risk for exposure to sources of infection;
- What options may be available for working remotely, or utilizing an employer’s flexible leave policy when they are sick;
- Social distancing strategies, including avoiding close physical contact (e.g., shaking hands) and large gatherings of people;
- Good hygiene and appropriate disinfection procedures;
- What personal protective equipment (PPE) is available, and how to wear, use, clean and store it properly;
- What medical services (e.g., vaccination, post-exposure medication) may be available to them; and
- How supervisors will provide updated pandemic-related communications, and where to direct their questions.
The lack of information on this situation may cause some panic among employees and lead them to raise concerns about workplace safety regarding the spread of the virus. It is worth remembering that the OSHAct prohibits retaliation against employees who raise workplace safety concerns, and requires cooperation in addressing those issues. Here are some websites that continue to post new information as it becomes available: