COVID-19 Workplace Safety Precautions

This article provides information for workers and employers about the evolving COVID-19 outbreak first identified in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. The information includes links to interim guidance and other resources for preventing exposures to, and infection with, the novel coronavirus—now officially named COVID-19.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Chinese authorities identified the new coronavirus, which has resulted in confirmed human infections in China and a growing number of other countries, including the United States. Infected patients have also spread the virus to healthcare workers. The latest situation summary updates are available on CDC’s COVID-19 webpage.

There is no evidence of widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States at this time. Without sustained human-to-human transmission, most American workers are not at significant risk of infection. Exposure risk may be elevated for some workers who interact with potentially infected travelers from abroad, including those involved in:

  • Healthcare
  • Deathcare
  • Laboratories
  • Airline operations
  • Border protection
  • Solid waste and wastewater management
  • Travel to areas, including parts of China, where the virus is spreading

There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features associated with COVID-19 as the outbreak investigation continues. Infected people can spread the coronavirus through their respiratory secretions, especially when they cough or sneeze. According to the CDC, spread from person-to-person is most likely among close contacts (about 6 feet). Person-to-person spread is thought to occur mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. It’s currently unknown if a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.

In addition to this OSHA guidance, employers and workers should consult interim CDC guidance specific to COVID-19. CDC also provides tips on what the general public should do during the ongoing outbreak.

Here are some additional quick facts regarding COVID-19:

  • Existing OSHA standards apply to protecting workers from the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
  • Signs and symptoms of infection with the coronavirus include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
  • Some people who get the COVID-19 may experience only mild illness. However, the virus can also cause pneumonia, which may be severe.
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus.
  • It is likely that some person-to-person spread will continue to occur.
  • CDC issued a warning notice to avoid all non-essential travel to China. CDC and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have implemented enhanced health screenings to detect travelers with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing when entering the United States.

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