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At the end of last week, Cal/OSHA issued a notice greatly expanding its IIPP guidance pertaining to the hazard of COVID-19 in the workplace.  Employers who have not reviewed and updated their IIPPs to address COVID-19 should do so now.

Until now, Cal/OSHA’s only guidance concerning IIPPs in relation to COVID-19 consisted of a general statement/reminder that employers are required to have an IIPP to protect employees from workplace hazards and that employers should determine if COVID-19 is a hazard in their workplace.  That guidance now states that “For most California workplaces, adopting changes to their IIPP is mandatory since COVID-19 is widespread in the community.”  (Emphasis added.)

Cal/OSHA replaced their previous general guidance (consisting of two bullet points) with an extensive list of particular “infection prevention measures” and training topics.  Cal/OSHA specifically states to “include [those] infection prevention measures in a written IIPP when applicable to the workplace.”

Background

Cal/OSHA’s regulations require protection for workers exposed to airborne infectious diseases such as the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), first identified in Wuhan City, China in December 2019. This interim guidance provides employers and workers with information for preventing exposure to the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19. Employers and employees should review their own health and safety procedures as well as the recommendations and standards detailed below to ensure workers are protected.

Cal/OSHA recommends employers follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), February 2020. These guidelines include infection prevention measures which include: • Actively encouraging sick employees to stay home • Sending employees with acute respiratory illness symptoms home immediately • Providing information and training to employees on:  Cough and sneeze etiquette;  Hand hygiene; Avoiding close contact with sick persons; Avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; Avoiding sharing personal items with co-workers (i.e. dishes, cups, utensils, towels); Providing tissues, no-touch disposal trash cans and hand sanitizer for use by employees • Performing routine environmental cleaning of shared workplace equipment and furniture (disinfection beyond routine cleaning is not recommended) • Advising employees to check CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices prior to travel The CDC guidelines also contain recommendations for creating an infectious disease outbreak response plan to be followed in the event of an outbreak.

These response plans include one or more of the following: • Allowing flexible worksites, telecommuting and flexible work hours to increase physical distance among employees • Using other methods of minimizing exposure between employees, and between employees and the public • Postponing or canceling large work-related meetings or events Additional Cal/OSHA Regulations for Workplaces Where There is Significant Risk of Exposure Although the scope of the ATD Standard is limited to certain employers, there are other Cal/OSHA regulations that apply to all employers. These may be applicable to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus where there is a significant risk in the workplace.

Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP)

All employers must have an IIPP (title 8 section 3203) to protect employees from workplace hazards. Employers are required to determine if COVID-19 infection is a hazard in their workplace. If it is a workplace hazard, then employers must: • Implement measures to prevent or reduce infection hazards, such as implementing the CDC recommended actions listed above • Provide training to employees on their COVID-19 infection prevention methods Washing Facilities Regardless of COVID-19 risk, all employers must provide washing facilities that have an adequate supply of suitable cleansing agents, water and single-use towels or blowers (title 8 sections 1527, 3366, 3457 and 8387.4). Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Title 8 section 3380 Personal Protective Devices requires employers to conduct a hazard assessment to determine if hazards are present in the workplace that necessitate the use of PPE. If an employer identifies COVID-19 as a workplace hazard, they must select and provide exposed employees with properly fitting PPE that will effectively protect employees. Control of Harmful Exposures Title 8 section 5141 Control of Harmful Exposures requires employers to protect employees from inhalation exposures that can result in injury, illness, disease, impairment, or loss of function. COVID-19 is a harmful exposure if there is an increased risk of infection at the workplace. Employers must implement engineering controls where feasible and administrative controls where practicable or provide respiratory protection where engineering and administrative controls cannot protect employees and during emergencies. The CDC recommendations above describe some useful administrative controls. For more information on respirator use see section 5144 and the federal OSHA respiratory protection etool. Surgical and other non-respirator face masks do not protect persons from airborne infectious disease and cannot be relied upon for novel pathogens. They do not prevent inhalation of virus particles because they do not seal to the person’s face and are not tested to the filtration efficiencies of respirators.

Resources

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease-2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), February 2020. March 4, 2020.