It's coming soon - the return of America back to work after COVID-19.
So, your industry may have been exempt and kept open during the Governor's “Stay-At-Home” and business closure order, or you are eager to a jump-start your business once the order is lifted. And workers are also excited to return to work after this pandemic pause.
But you've heard of employees elsewhere who have died from the Coronavirus (COVID-19), and one family who is suing that employer. (* See details, below.) No business owner wants its employees to get ill or die from the workplace. Despite Workers Compensation coverage, those businesses where illness or death occur may still face heightened exposure and an investigation and costly citation from OSHA, and perhaps sanctions and consequences from other agencies.
How can you and your business address these very serious safety concerns?
OSHA (and Cal/OSHA) sets safety standards, and OSHA has prepared a pamphlet, Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, that requires attention by every business. This includes exempt industries that were open during mandated “stay-at-home” state orders, or even if you are getting ready to jump-start your business.
Until Cal/OSHA develops State standards, these federal OSHA standards apply and will likely be repeated by Cal/OSHA. These OSHA standards set the minimum, or the floor or lowest level safety standards that business must comply with.
But, merely complying with OSHA standards does not give a business a “pass” to protect its workers. More than OSHA standards may still be required for your region, industry or business. There may still be exposure if reasonable and higher safety measures are applicable or reasonably necessary for your business, even if OSHA does not require it.
For example, at this time OSHA has not provided a definitive answer as to whether a cloth face mask is required in the workplace or considered Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, that should be provided by the employer. This lack of direction is even though the CDC has recommended masks be worn to the general public and many counties have instituted orders requiring face masks in public and workplaces.
So, take that opportunity now to review your employee safety standards in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19), applying OSHA guidance among other rules and often common sense. And stay tuned to newer anticipated Cal/OSHA guidelines. Also, check with your Workers' Compensation carrier for any advice they may have.
Finally, even after satisfying OSHA standards, see what else your business could – and should – do beyond the OSHA safety standards to protect your employees from harm.
This may include simple ordinary common-sense actions in your workplace beyond OSHA standards that helps save workers from contracting the virus or save their lives, along with avoidable exposure to your business.
We look forward to America Returning to Work and the upcoming Business Jump-Start, but lets be smart and especially safe about it.
A Trader Joe's employee in Scarsdale, N.Y., a greeter at a Giant store in Largo, Maryland, and two Walmart employees from a Chicago Illinois store have died of the recent coronavirus (COVID-19). The family of one of the deceased Walmart employees has sued for wrongful death. Sources: Washington Post, April 6, 2020, Abha Bhattarai; CBSNEWS.com, April 7, 2020, Kate Gibson.