Preventing Occupational Exposure to Coronavirus

Source: primagefactory - 123RF

With 10,000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China, with at least 213 deaths, some US airlines are suspending flights to China.

More than 7,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide.

A growing number of countries are evacuating their citizens and diplomats from parts of China.

Coronavirus cases in the U.S. are confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta. As of Jan. 31, 241 samples from 36 states were being tested; six have come back positive, and 114 have tested negative. The rest of the results are pending.

There is no specific OSHA standard covering 2019-nCoV. However, some OSHA requirements may apply to preventing occupational exposure to 2019-nCoV. Among the most relevant are:

  • OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards (in general industry, 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I), which require using gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection; and
  • The General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, 29 USC 654(a)(1), which requires employers to furnish to each worker “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) applies to occupational exposure to human blood and other potentially infectious materials that typically do not include respiratory secretions that may transmit 2019-nCoV. However, the provisions of the standard offer a framework that may help control some sources of the virus, including exposures to body fluids (e.g., respiratory secretions) not covered by the standard.

Employers must also protect their workers from exposure to chemicals used for cleaning and disinfection. Employers should be aware that common sanitizers and sterilizers could contain hazardous chemicals.

Where workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals, employers must comply with OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard (in general industry, 29 CFR 1910.1200) and other applicable OSHA chemical standards.

OSHA provides information about hazardous chemicals used in hospitals in the Housekeeping section of its Hospital eTool.

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