Back to work?: OSHA guidelines on COVID-19 and employee risk



In response to the coronavirus outbreak, states have faced the difficulty of balancing public health and economic stability. Governors from all fifty states are currently weighing their options to try to determine when their states can reopen and what precautions will be necessary.

For the past weeks, many people—including us at KTM—have been working from home and emphasizing social distancing in order to slow the spread for the good of our communities. At the same time, communities worry about long-term damage to businesses that have had to close for an undetermined length of time. We all wish for the pandemic to pass so that life can get back to normal, but experts indicate the virus’s effects are far from over. So what happens when we go back to work?

OSHA has posted a booklet titled “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19” outlining precautions employers can prepare to take for the sake of their employees as well as public health. The recommended precautions vary depending on the risk of exposure employees are likely to face in any given work environment. Below are OSHA’s descriptions of the four risk exposure levels they use in their recommendations, taken from their booklet.


Classifying Worker Exposure to SARS-CoV-2

Very High Exposure Risk

Very high exposure risk jobs are those with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19 during specific medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures. Workers in this category include:

  • Healthcare workers (e.g., doctors, nurses, dentists, paramedics, emergency medical technicians) performing aerosol-generating procedures (e.g., intubation, cough induction procedures, bronchoscopies, some dental procedures and exams, or invasive specimen collection) on known or suspected COVID-19 patients.

  • Healthcare or laboratory personnel collecting or handling specimens from known or suspected COVID-19 patients (e.g., manipulating cultures from known or suspected COVID-19 patients).

  • Morgue workers performing autopsies, which generally involve aerosol-generating procedures, on the bodies of people who are known to have, or suspected of having, COVID-19 at the time of their death.

High Exposure Risk

High exposure risk jobs are those with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19. Workers in this category include:

  • Healthcare delivery and support staff (e.g., doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff who must enter patients’ rooms) exposed to known or suspected COVID-19 patients. (Note: when such workers perform aerosol-generating procedures, their exposure risk level becomes very high.)

  • Medical transport workers (e.g., ambulance vehicle operators) moving known or suspected COVID-19 patients in enclosed vehicles.

  • Mortuary workers involved in preparing (e.g., for burial or cremation) the bodies of people who are known to have, or suspected of having, COVID-19 at the time of their death.

Medium Exposure Risk

Medium exposure risk jobs include those that require frequent and/or close contact with (i.e., within 6 feet of) people who may be infected with SARS-CoV-2, but who are not known or suspected COVID-19 patients. In areas without ongoing community transmission, workers in this risk group may have frequent contact with travelers who may return from international locations with widespread COVID-19 transmission. In areas where there is ongoing community transmission, workers in this category may have contact with the general public (e.g., schools, high-population-density work environments, some high-volume retail settings).

Lower Exposure Risk (Caution)

Lower exposure risk (caution) jobs are those that do not require contact with people known to be, or suspected of being, infected with SARS-CoV-2 nor frequent close contact with (i.e., within 6 feet of) the general public. Workers in this category have minimal occupational contact with the public and other coworkers.

#covid19 #backtowork #workplacesafety #osha

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