The COVID-19 pandemic thrust personal protective equipment (PPE) into the spotlight. Demand for masks, gloves and similar items skyrocketed, even as people were told to stay home as much as possible.
Now that many states are reopening, companies are starting to bring their employees back into the workplace. As a result, many employers are trying to figure out whether they need to make PPE available and, if so, what kind.
If you want to make sure your business is supplying the right PPE, here’s what you need to know.
Federal PPE Laws
When it comes to PPE, employers are mainly affected by the General Duties Clause – Section 5(a)(1) – of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. It mandates that companies have to provide employees with a workplace that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
While that seems fairly straightforward, in situations such as a pandemic, it’s common to have questions. There are no explicit rules regarding PPE and infectious disease. Luckily, OSHA created some guidelines to help clarify the matter.
By and large, the risk of COVID-19 exposure at work dictates an employer’s PPE obligations. For example, during the performance of their duties, a hospital emergency room doctor’s risk is high to very high, so the hospital likely has to provide PPE to protect from the virus.
Determining Employee Risk
OSHA identified four risk levels – very high, high, medium, and lower risk – that can help employers discern their obligations. Nearly all medical professionals are in the high or very high risk categories, as their duties could require them to have contact with COVID-19 infected individuals.
Medium risk would include teachers, retail workers, and other professionals who generally interact with the public or outside customers during the performance of their duties. Anyone who doesn’t have to work with the public or come in close contact with others who may have COVID-19 usually fall in the lower risk category.
The vast majority of employees fall in the latter two groups. If your employees are in the lower risk category, your company’s obligation to provide PPE for COVID-19 protection is essentially non-existent. For medium risk workers, certain basic steps may be necessary. This could include something as simple as installing sneeze guards up to providing basic PPE, such as masks, to specific employees.
However, it is important to note this only covers employer obligations at the federal level. State and local law may have different requirements, so you need to stay apprised of standards in your area. Additionally, new laws could be in the works, so it’s crucial to remain vigilant.
The situation is highly fluid, and frequent change is likely. By keeping tabs on happenings in your area, you can adjust should the need arise.
Plus, even if you aren’t obligated to provide PPE, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. For one, it will show that you care about your employees and make them more comfortable. For another, it may limit the spread of the virus in your workplace and community, ensuring more people remain healthy and are able to work.
If you would like to learn more about your obligations as an employer during COVID-19, the team at CPS Recruitment can help. Contact us today and see how our workplace expertise can benefit you.