Coronavirus, OSHA, and You

As you can see after visiting your local Publix or Winn-Dixie this past weekend, the Coronavirus or Covid-19 panic is real.  People are not always making rational decisions and seem to be expecting the next few weeks (or longer) as a season of The Walking Dead.

We are all being bombarded with information and recommendations regarding the Coronavirus or Covid-19.  As a result it has been difficult to make safety and health decisions for yourself, your family and your business.  Do not rely on social media to be accurate and current.  I strongly recommend that you consider the most accurate source of information are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and can be found here:

While there has been a dearth of information regarding preparing your workplace for an outbreak, I haven’t found any that are truly applicable to a construction site.  Encouraging good hygienic practices may be possible, but maintaining social distance may not always possible with many construction tasks, and a blanket statement of “Stay home if you are ill” rings hollow if the majority of the labor workforce do not have sick time benefits.

So, there will be challenges ahead.  There are many questions we all have and only a few solid answers.  Over the last few weeks, one of the issues has been in regards to the N95 filtering facepiece respirator which is in scarce supply.  Despite what several people have said to me, OSHA, with one exception,  has not relaxed the respiratory protection standards.  If the task requires an N95 respirator (e.g. chipping concrete inside the building) and you cannot replenish your supply of N95 filtering facepieces then you would have to use an N95 half face respirator or other acceptable respirator alternative.  NOT using a respirator is NOT an option.  The only relaxation of the respiratory protection standard involve the annual fit testing for health care workers.

OSHA has also stated that the Coronavirus is a work related recordable illness if the transmission was within the workplace.  The General Duty Clause {Section 5(a)(1)} requires employers to furnish to each worker “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”  OSHA has given notice that this standard will be cited to any employer not providing a safe workplace by being negligent in efforts to prevent the transmission of the Coronavirus at the workplace.  So, as an example, if an employee transmits the virus to another employee by a cough, sneeze or other means then this may be considered a violation of the OSHA regulation.

I would anticipate a higher volume of complaints to OSHA over the next few weeks as workers become more concerned about their health, which will initiate more investigations.  Although OSHA may not have specific regulations regarding a pandemic, the CDC has recommendations an employer can do, among them:

  1. Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F or greater), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours.
  2. Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
  3. Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.
  4. Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.

You can find the complete list at