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Concerns About Potential OSHA Citations for COVID-19 Illness

Employers across Virginia are concerned about protecting their employees from exposure to coronavirus infection and COVID-19 illness. Many are also asking what they can do to minimize their risk of facing a VOSH citation for failing to protect their employees from such exposure. Although there is no specific standard that OSHA has adopted concerning coronavirus exposure, failing to take reasonable steps to protect employees could be the basis of a “General Duty Clause” violation. At a minimum, employers should develop and implement infectious disease preparedness response plan that considers risks of exposure, and incorporates recommendations from sate local federal health agencies, and communicate this plan to employees. Employers should also implement procedures to identify and isolate potentially infectious individuals, and implement good hygiene and infection control (hand washing, cleaning, disinfecting, stay at home).

With new recommendations concerning use of masks and face coverings in public place, employers need to be careful concerning employees voluntarily wearing masks and face coverings. OSHA has numerous requirements applicable to the use of N95 masks, including a written respirator program, fit testing, and medial examinations. If employees want to voluntarily wear non-N95 face coverings, including surgical masks, no OSHA respirator requirements apply to use of such masks or face coverings.

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