Potential Exposure Determines Job Risk Categories

A free webinar, “COVID-19 Updates for Grain, Feed and Processing Industry: OSHA Guidance and Workplace Health and Safety Issues," was hosted on May 20 by the National Grain and Feed Association and Grain Journal magazine. The webinar was presented by Eric J. Conn, a founding partner of Conn Maciel Carey and Chair of the firm’s national OSHA Workplace Safety Group. The following information is directly from Conn's presentation.

COVID-19 Job Risk Categories

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance issued March 9 for COVID-19 response divides workplaces and job tasks into four categories of risk exposure levels: very high, high, medium, and low.

Very high and high risk exposure-level workplaces and job tasks are essentially for healthcare industry workers who are in direct contact with "known" or "suspected" COVID-19 cases.

Tasks in the grain industry will be somewhere in the medium to lower risk categories. The medium category is for workplaces or work tasks that require frequent and/or close contact with people who "may be" infected with COVID-19.

Close contact is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as being within approximately six feet of someone for a prolonged period of time (more than a few minutes).

Then there's the idea of "may be" infected. OSHA distinguishes between two types of areas – those without ongoing community transmission, and those with ongoing community transmission.

Given that we have ongoing community transmission of COVID-19 in this country, any encounter could be with someone who "may be" infected. Indeed, OSHA instructs as much in its guidance, stating that, in areas where there is ongoing community transmission, workers in the medium exposure risk category are those who are expected to have contact with the general public (e.g., schools, high-population-density work environments, some high-volume retail settings).

Perhaps a time will come when transmission is controlled or enough people have contracted COVID-19 making most of the population immune (referred to as "herd immunity," but for now, everyone should be considered someone who "may be" infected.

If you have close contact with someone who “may be” infected with COVID-19, but who is not “known” or “suspected” to have the virus — for example, if you have to work within six feet of a coworker for extended periods of time, or if your primary job task requires dealing directly with customers, third parties, contractors or vendors for extended periods of time — that's going to be classified as a medium-risk exposure level job task by OSHA.

The other side of that coin is frequent contact with people who "may be" infected with COVID-19. This tends to come up more often in the retail setting or with grocery stores, where, for example, a grocery store checkout clerk may have very short-duration interactions with the general public, but those interactions occur over and over again, cumulatively amounting to a “prolonged period of time.”

So with regard to job tasks that require frequent, even if short-duration, contact with people who "may be" infected with COVID-19 (assuming again that those people are not “known” or “suspected” to have the virus), OSHA is going to expect employers to treat such tasks as medium risk exposure level job task

That designation comes with a meaningful set of requirements to engage in engineering, administrative, and PPE-types of controls to protect workers in the medium exposure risk category.

The lower risk category encompasses all other workplaces and tasks. It's a job task that does not require contact with people known to be, or suspected of being, infected with COVID-19, nor frequent close contact with the general public. Per OSHA’s guidance, workers in this category have minimal occupational exposure with the public and other coworkers, and will require the least amount of intervention and control measures to be protected from infection.


Click here to read the OSHA guidanceGuidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19

Click here to view the full recorded webinarNGFA Webinar: OSHA Guidance and Workplace Health and Safety Issues

Click here to view COVID-19 Resources prepared by Conn Maciel Carey's COVID-19 Task Force