By Mark A.Lies, II, Brent I. ClarkDaniel R. BirnbaumIlana R. Morady, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: Cal/OSHA has issued guidance on protecting workers from exposure to 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV or Coronavirus).

Faithful readers are already familiar with our previous dispatches, including Chinese Coronavirus Outbreak—What Employers Need to Know; Coronavirus: Employer Liability Issues; Legal Update & January 6, 2020 Webinar–Coronavirus: Employer Liability Issues; and, of course, our Coronavirus INFORMATION and FAQs.

Now, Cal/OSHA has adopted guidance that covers California-specific safety requirements under its Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard.  (In contrast,  federal OSHA has no specific standard for regulating Coronavirus; rather, it generally regulates the potential hazard of Coronavirus via the “General Duty Clause” of the OSH Act, which requires employers to furnish workers with a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.)

California’s ATD standard requires covered employers to protect workers from diseases and pathogens transmitted by aerosols and droplets. The ATD standard primarily applies to health care facilities, but also applies to laboratories, public health services, police services, and other locations where employees are reasonably anticipated to be exposed to confirmed or suspected cases of aerosol transmissible diseases. Covered employers must have an “ATD Exposure Control Plan,” with procedures to identify Coronavirus cases or suspected cases as soon as possible and protect employees from infection.

California’s ATD standard also requires covered employers to protect employees from the Coronavirus through

  • training on topics such as signs and symptoms of the disease and modes of transmission,
  • engineering controls such as “airborne infection isolation rooms or areas, exhaust ventilation, air filtration and air disinfection,”
  • work practice controls such as “procedures for safely moving patients through the operation or facility, handwashing, personal protective equipment donning and doffing procedures, the use of anterooms, and cleaning and disinfecting contaminated surfaces, protective equipment, articles and linens,”
  • personal protective equipment, and
  • medical services including infection determination and treatment.

Laboratory operations are subject to additional requirements, including the CDC’s Interim Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines for Handling and Processing Specimens Associated with 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

Cal/OSHA reminds all employers and workers that any suspected cases of Coronavirus must be promptly reported to the local public health department.

The California Department of Public Health has updated information on Coronavirus and reporting requirements. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also posted specific information for health care workers and laboratory settings.

For more information on this or any related topic, please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) TeamWorkplace Counseling & Solutions Team, or the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.

Edited by Elizabeth Levy