Hazard Assessment and Employee Screening Policies

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, LLP and Chair of the firm’s national OSHA Workplace Safety Group. The following information is directly from Conn's presentation.

As part of your grain facility's COVID-19 exposure control plan, you should have a section that references your COVID-19 specific hazard assessment, and the combination of engineering/administrative controls, and/or personal protective equipment measures, you are implementing to protect your workers from the virus.

Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have an infectious diseases standard, it may cite employers under its General Duty Clause for not protecting workers from recognized hazards. With COVID-19 being declared a pandemic months ago, it goes without saying that the virus is considered a recognized hazard.

In this regard, OSHA has referred to guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to determine what steps employers should take and the protective measures they should implement. Among one of the CDC’s top recommendations for employers is to conduct a thorough hazard assessment.

Per CDC’s guidance, through your hazard assessment, you must identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work. Employers must use appropriate combinations of controls to limit the spread of the virus, including engineering controls, workplace administrative policies, and personal protective equipment (PPE). When engineering and administrative controls cannot be implemented or are not fully protective, employers are required by OSHA standards to:

  • Determine what PPE (if any) is needed for their workers’ specific job duties,
  • Select and provide appropriate PPE to the workers at no cost, and
  • Train their workers on its correct use.

Depending on the COVID-19 risk exposure level, proper PPE for some positions, like face shields, gloves, gowns, and respirators, will need to be considered. If you assess the hazards and determine that your workers do not require PPE, such as a respirator or medical facemask, for protection, you should encourage your workers to wear a cloth face covering (which, is not considered PPE, but provides a measure of protection for others) at work.

The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering as a measure to contain the wearer’s respiratory droplets and help protect their co-workers and members of the general public. Employers should also remind employees and customers that CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Note however that wearing a cloth face covering should not replace more protective measures, like social distancing and proper hygiene.

In addition to hazard assessments, the CDC also recommends that employers design policies and procedures to identify and remove sick employees from the workplace. Employers should consider implementing flexible sick leave policies, policies that require employees to notify their supervisors before work (or, if at work, immediately) if they experience symptoms, and pre-work health screening protocols.

In terms of pre-work health screenings, employers have a variety of options. For example, some might use a non-contact thermometer and screen out any employee with an elevated temperature so the employee can be kept from entering the workplace.

Additionally, another recommended practice includes asking employees test- and symptoms-based questions and requesting information about close-contact interactions they may have had with others who are known or suspected to have COVID-19. Should any employee be directed to leave work for known or suspected infection, s/he should be directed to follow CDC recommended steps/precautions, and should not be allowed to return to work until s/he had met CDC’s criteria to discontinue home isolation.

These protocols are ways to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and keep contagious employees out of the workplace while providing a path back to work when they've recovered.

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

Click here to view the full recorded webinarOSHA Guidance and Workplace Health and Safety Issues

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