Cal/OSHA Issues Interim Guidelines For Protecting General Industry Workers From Exposure To Coronavirus


Cal/OSHA’s regulations require protection for workers exposed to airborne infectious diseases such as the 2019 novel (new) coronavirus (2019-nCoV), first identified in Wuhan City, China in December 2019.  In February, Cal/OSHA issued Interim Guidance for Protecting Health Care Workers From Exposure to Coronavirus.[1]  On March 4, 2020, Cal/OSHA issued new Interim Guidelines for protecting general industry employees from the coronavirus.[2]  This Alert will address how employers in general industry can protect their employees from coronavirus.

The Interim Guidance for Protecting Health Care Workers addressed the Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard.  The ATD Standard contains the requirements for protecting workers from diseases and pathogens transmitted by aerosols such as the coronavirus. (Title 8, California Code of Regulations, § 5199 (hereinafter “Title 8, CCR”).  The ATD standard only applies to certain employers such as hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, clinics health care services, police services, paramedics and other facilities/services where workers have an elevated risk of exposure since they will be treating and working with individuals with confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus.  

Cal/OSHA has now provided guidance for employers who are not covered by the ATD Standard.

Cal/OSHA Interim Guidelines for General Industry on 2019 Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

Cal/OSHA recommends that employers who are not covered by the ATD standard follow the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), February 2020.

These guidelines contain infection prevention measures which include the following:

  • Actively encouraging sick employees to stay home;
  • Sending employees with acute respiratory illness symptoms home immediately;
  • Providing information and training to employees on:
    • Cough and sneeze etiquette;
    • Hand hygiene;
    • Avoiding close contact with sick persons;
    • Avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;
    • Avoiding sharing personal items with co-workers (i.e. dishes, cups, utensils); and
    • Providing tissues, no-touch disposal trash cans and hand sanitizer for use by employees.
  • Performing routine environmental cleaning of shared workplace equipment and furniture (disinfection beyond routine cleaning is not recommended); and
  • Advising employees to check CDC’s Travelers Health Notices prior to travel.

The CDC guidelines also contain recommendations for creating an infectious disease outbreak response plan to be followed in the event of outbreak.  These response plans include one or more of the following:

  • Allowing flexible worksites, telecommuting and flexible work hours to increase physical distance among employees.
  • Using other methods of minimizing exposure between employees, and between employees and the public.
  • Postponing or cancelling large work-related meetings or events.

Additional Cal/OSHA Regulations for Workplaces Where There Is Significant Risk of Exposure

There are additional regulations which may apply as well.

  1. Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP)

All employers must have an IIPP to protect employees from workplace hazards (Title 8, CCR, § 3203).  Employers are required to determine if coronavirus infection is a hazard in their workplace.  If it is a workplace hazard, then employers must:

  • Implement measures to prevent or reduce infection hazards, such as implementing the CDC recommended actions listed above.

Provide training to employees on their coronavirus infection prevention methods.

     2. Washing Facilities

Regardless of coronavirus risk, all employers must provide washing facilities that have an adequate supply of suitable cleansing agents, water and single-use towels or blowers (Title 8, CCR §§ 1527, 3366, 3457 and 8387.4.).

     3. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Employers are required to conduct a hazard assessment to determine if hazards exist in the workplace which necessitate the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). (Title 8, CCR § 3380.) If an employer identifies coronavirus as a workplace hazard, they must select and provide exposed employees with properly fitting PPE that will effectively protect employees.  It should be noted that surgical and other non-respirator face masks do not protect persons from airborne infectious disease and cannot be relied upon for novel pathogens.  They do not prevent inhalation of virus particles because they do not seal to the person’s face and are not tested to the filtration efficiencies of respirators.

     4. Control of Harmful Exposures

Employers must protect employees from inhalation to harmful exposures that can cause injury. (Title 8, CCR § 5141.) Coronavirus is a harmful exposure if there is an increased risk of infection at the workplace.  Employers must implement engineering controls where feasible and administrative controls where practical or provide respiratory protection. The CDC recommendations provide some useful administrative controls.

We recommend that all employers provide training to its employees as soon as possible and take steps to make sure the recommendations in the Interim Guideline are being implemented.  The Interim Guidelines also contain links to many other helpful resources.  The CDC and other health agencies are providing frequent updates and employers should monitor these websites.  Should you have questions please contact Jonathan S. Vick at (562) 653-3200.

[1] Interim Guidance for Protecting Health Care Workers From Exposure to Coronavirus; see also the prior Alert

[2] Cal/OSHA Interim Guidelines for General Industry on 2019 Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).

This AALRR publication is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in reaching a conclusion in a particular area of law. Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. Receipt of this or any other AALRR publication does not create an attorney-client relationship. The firm is not responsible for inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process. 

© 2020 Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo



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