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OSHA Issues Frequently Asked Questions as Employees Return to the Workplace

Coronavirus Labor & Employment

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently developed a COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page to provide a central location for commonly asked questions concerning steps employers can take to keep workers safe as they return to work. Generally, the guidance provided in the FAQs has been previously issued in OSHA memos and publications including OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 and Guidance on Returning to Work. The FAQs also provide links to other federal agencies and organizations providing resources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Generally, the FAQs page is divided into the following topics:

  • Cleaning and Disinfection
  • Cloth face coverings
  • Potential OSHA Standards
  • Risk assessments
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Restroom and Handwashing Facilities
  • Retaliation
  • Testing for COVID-19
  • Training
  • Worker protection concerns

The FAQs provide some helpful reminders on issues previously addressed by OSHA in prior guidance. Below are a few highlights:  

  • Face Coverings: The FAQs provide that “OSHA generally recommends that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work” but leaves it to the employer to consider whether face coverings are appropriate given the specific circumstances of their worksite. The FAQs also confirms OSHA’s prior stance that unlike surgical masks and respirators, cloth face coverings are not Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and therefore not subject to OSHA’s PPE or Respiratory Protection standards.
  • Applicable regulations: The FAQs provide a link to OSHA’s prior guidance regarding standards that may apply to employee expose to Coronavirus, including OSHA’s PPE standard (29 CFR 1910.132), Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134), and General Duty Clause (29 U.S.C. §654(a)(1)). The guidance notes that while OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) is not typically applicable to respiratory secretions, the standard provides a helpful framework that may help to control the spread of the virus.
  • Training Topics: The FAQs state that employers should train their employees on how the virus spreads, potential exposure risks on the job, appropriate cleaning and disinfection of the workplace, hygiene practices, protocols for sick employees, and PPE and/or respiratory equipment training to the extent employees are required to use PPE in the workplace.
  • Enforcement: The FAQs state that while all OSHA standards remain in effect, the agency is exercising enforcement discretion for certain standards, such as those for initial or recurring training, audits, reviews, testing and assessment. OSHA recognizes that due to the pandemic, employers may have difficulty in contracting with third parties who often administer testing, training and assessments.

While many have applauded OSHA for its guidance and recommendations during the pandemic, the agency has come under recent fire by worker advocacy groups criticizing the agency’s failure to take strong positions on what employers must do, and/or promulgating and enforcing standards in response to the pandemic. We will continue to monitor OSHA’s guidance and recommendations as they become available.