More masks. Better distancing. Improved air circulation. More information and training.
These are just a few of the items that Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Agency will be imposing on many businesses as it seeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has been rampant in recent weeks.
The rule will take effect Nov. 16, with certain elements phased in, and is expected to remain in effect until May 4, Oregon OSHA said. It is a continuation of the guidance produced by the Oregon Health Authority and enforced in the workplace by Oregon OSHA, including physical distancing, use of face coverings, and sanitation.
The temporary rule is intended to further improve the current structure for reducing risks in the workplace by requiring several measures many employers have voluntarily implemented, Oregon OSHA said in a news release. For example, it requires employers to notify employees of a workplace infection and provide training to workers on how to reduce risks. Likewise, employers must formally assess the risk of exposure, develop infection control plans and address indoor air quality.
“We believe compliance with this rule will help reduce the serious threat to workers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Michael Wood, administrator for Oregon OSHA, said in the release. “It does so by establishing a clear, practical, and consistent set of measures for employers.”
The measures are part of Oregon OSHA’s ongoing efforts to help protect workers from the coronavirus disease, the spread of which has spiked in recent weeks. The state shattered its daily case count record on Thursday, reporting 805 new cases that day alone. On Friday, the state came close to that record again, reporting 770 new cases. In total, Oregon has seen over 47,500 cases of the coronavirus and more than 700 people have died. From week to week, state health officials have reported a 34% spike in weekly cases.
Douglas County has also seen an increase in coronavirus cases. going from 249 on Oct. 1, to 436 on Friday. There have been six reported coronavirus-related deaths in the county in the last 2 ½ weeks.
Oregon OSHA said that in the weeks ahead it will provide educational resources to help employers and workers understand and apply the requirements. Some of the highlights of the new set of rules include:
- Employers must ensure 6-foot distancing between all people in the workplace through design of work activities and workflow, unless it can be shown it is not feasible for some activities.
Masks, face covering, or face shields
- Employers must ensure that all individuals — including employees, part-time workers and customers — at the workplace, or other establishment under the employer’s control, wear a mask, face covering, or face shield in line with the Oregon Health Authority’s statewide guidance.
- Employers must provide masks, face coverings, or face shields for employees free of cost.
- If an employee chooses to wear a mask, face shield, or face covering — even when it is not required — the employer must allow them to do so.
- When employees are transported in a vehicle for work-related purposes, regardless of the travel distance or duration, all people inside the vehicle must wear a mask, face covering, or face shield. This requirement does not apply when all people in the vehicle are members of the same household.
- Employers must maximize the effectiveness of existing ventilation systems, maintain and replace air filters, and clean intake ports providing fresh or outdoor air. The temporary rule does not require employers to purchase or install new ventilation systems.
Exposure risk assessment
- Employers must conduct a risk assessment — a process that must involve participation and feedback from employees — to gauge potential employee exposure to COVID-19, including addressing specific questions about how to minimize such exposure.
Information and training
- Employers must provide information and training to workers about the relevant topics related to COVID-19. They must do so in a manner and language understood by workers.
Notification, testing, medical removal
- Employers must notify affected workers within 24 hours of a work-related COVID-19 infection.
- Employers must cooperate with public health officials if testing within the workplace is necessary.
- If an employee must quarantine or isolate, the employer must follow proper work reassignment and return-to-work steps.
Meanwhile, an executive order issued Oct. 23 by Gov. Kate Brown extended COVID-19 protections for agricultural workers in employer-provided housing through the off-season.
Oregon OSHA said it will continue to pursue permanent rule making that will provide a structure for responding to potential future disease outbreaks. More information is available on the OSHA web site, osha.oregon.gov.