OSHA workplace protections for COVID-19


The COVID-19 pandemic (also often referred to as the coronavirus pandemic) has changed a lot about how businesses operate. Maintaining a safe environment for employees, as well as any customers who walk through the door, is vital. To help, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued guidelines for employers to help protect their workers from COVID-19. 


Why workplace safety matters during COVID-19

A safe, healthy work environment is always essential. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these goals have become increasingly more important, as the virus has the potential to spread quickly within the workplace. While some people might only experience minor symptoms, others could become dangerously ill. Taking the proper precautions is crucial for preventing infections and keeping everyone safe during the pandemic. 


OSHA COVID-19 workplace guidelines

To help protect employees, OSHA created safety guidelines for businesses. These guidelines help employers assess risk within the workplace and determine planning, prevention, and control measures.


While the COVID-19 guidance issued by OSHA isn’t federally mandated, many of the recommendations tie back to one of the federal organization’s most important regulations, the General Duty Clause.


The General Duty Clause states that employers must provide all employees with a workplace “free from hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” It also states that employers have to comply with the health and safety standards under the act. 


Some of the workplace recommendations that OSHA has outlined for COVID-19 include:


  • Developing a preparedness and response plan
  • Protecting employees based on their risk category
  • Implementing basic measures to prevent infection, such as frequent hand washing, providing hand sanitizer, regular housekeeping practices, and encouraging employees who feel sick (or suspect they may have been exposed to the virus) to stay home
  • Exploring work-from-home and flexible schedule options
  • Implementing workplace controls, such as high-efficiency air filters, increased ventilation, and physical barriers 
  • Providing the appropriate PPE (which is a requirement)
  • Developing and implementing policies to identify and isolate anyone who might be sick 


OSHA also has regulations in place for circumstances that necessitate the use of personal protection equipment (PPE). In addition, it has chemical standards to protect employees from exposure to hazardous chemicals, which may be present in the cleaning supplies required to sanitize workplaces during the pandemic. 


While OSHA’s COVID-19 guidelines might not be mandatory in all circumstances, they do provide a framework for employers to create and implement plans that help keep employees safe. 


Repercussions of violating OSHA regulations

Again, the guidelines might not be mandatory in all circumstances, but OSHA points out that many of its recommendations for COVID-19 tie back to established, enforceable policies. Employers must provide a safe work environment for all employees or face the consequences. 


Amazon was recently cited for coronavirus-related health and safety violations at two California warehouses. Cal/OSHA issued almost $1,800 in fines to the company. Since the start of the pandemic, OSHA has cited 37 businesses and issued nearly $500,000 in fines. Employees can contact OSHA if they feel their workplace is unsafe during the pandemic.  


Employers should prioritize a healthy and safe work environment at all times, especially during the pandemic. Taking basic steps to protect employees can help reduce their risk of infection and ensure the safety of everyone.