Control and Prevention
Measures for protecting workers from exposure to, and infection with, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), depend on the type of work being performed and exposure risk, including potential for interaction with people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and contamination of the work environment. Employers should adapt infection control strategies based on a thorough hazard assessment, using appropriate combinations of engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent worker exposures. Some OSHA standards that apply to preventing occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 also require employers to train workers on elements of infection prevention, including PPE.
OSHA has developed this interim guidance to help prevent worker exposure to SARS-CoV-2. The general guidance below applies to all U.S. workers and employers. Depending on where their operations fall in OSHA’s exposure risk pyramid (Spanish), workers and employers should also consult additional, specific guidance for those at increased risk of exposure in the course of their job duties broken down by exposure risk level.
U.S. Department of Defense
Regardless of specific exposure risks, following good hand hygiene practices can help workers stay healthy year round.
General Guidance for All Workers and Employers
For all workers, regardless of specific exposure risks, it is always a good practice to:
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. When soap and running water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand rub with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands that are visibly soiled.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Practice good respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home if sick.
- Recognize personal risk factors. According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), certain people, including older adults and those with underlying conditions such as heart or lung disease or diabetes, are at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19.
The CDC has also developed interim guidance for businesses and employers to plan for and respond to COVID-19. The interim guidance is intended to help prevent workplace exposure to acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. The guidance also addresses considerations that may help employers as community transmission of COVID-19 evolves. The guidance is intended for non-healthcare settings; healthcare workers and employers should consult guidance specific to them, including the information below and on the CDC coronavirus webpage.
Interim Guidance for Workers and Employers of Workers at Lower Risk of Exposure
For most types of workers, the risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2 is similar to that of the general American public. Workers whose jobs 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 are at lower risk of occupational exposure.
CDC/Kimberly Smith, Christine Ford
OSHA’s infection prevention recommendations follow the hierarchy of controls, including using engineering and administrative controls and safe work practices to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19. Depending on work tasks and potential exposures, appropriate PPE for protecting workers from the virus may include gloves, gowns, masks, goggles or face shields, and/or respirators.
As the Hazard Recognition page explains, workers’ job duties affect their level of occupational risk, and such risk may change as workers take on different tasks within their positions.
Employers and workers in operations where there is no specific exposure hazard should remain aware of the evolving community transmission. Changes in community transmission may warrant additional precautions in some workplaces or for some workers not currently highlighted in this guidance.
Employers should monitor public health communications about COVID-19 recommendations, ensure that workers have access to that information, and collaborate with workers to designate effective means of communicating important COVID-19 information. Frequently check the OSHA and CDC COVID-19 websites for updates.
Interim Guidance for Workers and Employers of Workers at Increased Risk of Occupational Exposure
Certain workers are likely to perform job duties that involve medium, high, or very high occupational exposure risks. Many critical sectors depend on these workers to continue their operations. Examples of workers in these exposure risk groups include but are not limited to, those in healthcare, emergency response, meat and poultry processing, retail stores (e.g., grocery stores, pharmacies), and other critical infrastructure operations. These workers and their employers should remain aware of the evolving community transmission risk.
As discussed on the Hazard Recognition page explains, workers’ job duties affect their level of occupational risk. Employers should assess the hazards to which their workers may be exposed; evaluate the risk of exposure; and, select, implement, and ensure workers use controls to prevent exposure. Control measures may include a combination of engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE.
Identify and Isolate Suspected Cases
- In workplaces where exposure to COVID-19 may occur, prompt identification and isolation of potentially infectious individuals is a critical first step in protecting workers, visitors, and others at the work site.
- Wherever feasible, immediately isolate individuals suspected of having COVID-19. For example, move potentially infectious individuals to isolation rooms. On an aircraft, if possible and without compromising aviation safety, move potentially infectious individuals to seats away from passengers and crew. In other work sites, move potentially infectious individuals to a location away from workers, customers, and other visitors and with a closed door, if possible.
- Take steps to limit the spread of the individual’s infectious respiratory secretions, including by providing them a facemask and asking them to wear it, if they can tolerate doing so. Note: A surgical mask on a patient or other sick person should not be confused with PPE for a worker; the surgical mask acts to contain potentially infectious respiratory secretions at the source (i.e., the person’s nose and mouth).
- After isolation, the next steps depend on the type of workplace. For example:
- In most types of workplaces (i.e., those outside of healthcare):
- Isolated individuals should leave the work site as soon as possible. Depending on the severity of the isolated individual’s illness, he or she might be able to return home or seek medical care on his or her own, but some individuals may need emergency medical services.
- In healthcare workplaces:
- If possible, isolate patients suspected of having COVID-19 separately from those with confirmed cases of the virus to prevent further transmission, including in screening, triage, or healthcare facilities.
- Restrict the number of personnel entering isolation areas, including the room of a patient with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
- Protect workers in close contact* with the sick person by using additional engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE.
- Sick workers should leave the work site as soon as possible. Depending on the severity of the isolated worker’s illness, he or she might be able to return home or seek medical care on his or her own, but some individuals may need emergency medical services.
- In most types of workplaces (i.e., those outside of healthcare):
*CDC defines close contact as being within about 6 feet of an infected person while not wearing recommended PPE. Close contact also includes instances where there is direct contact with infectious secretions while not wearing recommended PPE. Close contact generally does not include brief interactions, such as walking past a person.
Environmental Cleaning and Decontamination
When people touch a surface or object contaminated with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and then touch their own eyes, noses, or mouths, they may expose themselves to the virus.
Early information from the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, and other study partners suggests that SARS-CoV-2 can survive on certain types of surfaces, such as plastic and stainless steel, for 2-3 days. However, because the transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 from contaminated environmental surfaces and objects is still not fully understood, employers should carefully evaluate whether or not work areas occupied by people suspected to have the virus may have been contaminated and whether or not they need to be decontaminated in response.
The CDC provides instructions for environmental cleaning and disinfection for various types of workplaces, including:
- Healthcare facilities, as part of CDC healthcare infection control recommendations
- Postmortem care facilities, such as autopsy suites
- Other, non-healthcare facilities
Employers operating workplaces during the COVID-19 pandemic should continue routine cleaning and other housekeeping practices in any facilities that remain open to workers or others. Employers who need to clean and disinfect environments potentially contaminated with SARS-CoV-2 should use EPA-registered disinfectants with label claims to be effective against SARS-CoV-2. Routine cleaning and disinfection procedures (e.g., using cleaners and water to pre-clean surfaces before applying an EPA-registered disinfectant to frequently touched surfaces or objects for appropriate contact times as indicated on the product’s label) are appropriate for SARS-CoV-2, including in patient care areas in healthcare settings in which aerosol-generating procedures are performed.
Workers who conduct cleaning tasks must be protected from exposure to hazardous chemicals used in these tasks. In these cases, the PPE (29 CFR 1910 Subpart I) and Hazard Communication (29 CFR 1910.1200) standards may apply, and workers may need appropriate PPE to prevent exposure to the chemicals. If workers need respirators, they must be used in the context of a comprehensive respiratory protection program that meets the requirements of OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134) and includes medical exams, fit testing, and training.
Cleaning chemicals’ Safety Data Sheets and other manufacturer instructions can provide additional guidance about what PPE workers need to use the chemicals safely.
Do not use compressed air or water sprays to clean potentially contaminated surfaces, as these techniques may aerosolize infectious material. More information about protecting environmental services workers is included in the worker-specific section, below.
See the interim guidance for specific worker groups and their employers, below, for further information.
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