Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
On May 5, 2020, Cal/OSHA published updated COVID-19 prevention guidelines for specific essential businesses in Agriculture, Child Care, Construction, Grocery Stores and Logistics. With limited exceptions, the guidelines cover a number of general safety topics previously discussed in Cal/OSHA’s prior publications, such as training, cleaning and disinfecting, increasing physical distancing, sanitation practices, and precautions for dealing with a worker who becomes sick with COVID-19, each discussed below. While Cal/OSHA makes clear that its guidance “does not introduce any new legal obligations,” a number of the recommendations made by the Agency, such as requiring employee training and ensuring sanitary bathroom and hand-washing facilities, are covered by pre-existing and controlling occupational health and safety laws.
General Safety Topics Covered in the Guidelines
Employee Training: Employers must provide training so that their employees understand the symptoms and spread of COVID-19 along with methods of preventing further transmission through frequent handwashing, hand sanitizers, cleaning and disinfecting, physical distancing, and the use of non-PPE cloth face coverings. The training should also cover the importance of not coming to work and to seek medical attention for COVID-19 symptoms per CDC guidelines. Cal/OSHA recommends that employers update their Injury Illness Prevention Programs (IIPP) to reflect COVID-19 training and methods for preventing the spread of the virus.
Cleaning and Disinfecting: Employers should establish and implement cleaning and disinfecting procedures so that commonly touched surfaces in the work areas are frequently cleaned and disinfected. Handwashing stations must also be readily available and stocked, and employers must allow enough time for employees to frequently wash their hands.
Physical Distancing: Physical distancing between employees and the general public should be enforced at all times. The guidance recommends that employers allow those who can work remotely to do so. If possible, employers should consider staggering shifts, breaks and/or lunch times to ensure employees are able to maintain at least six feet of physical distancing at most times and to allow exceptions only when physical distancing is not feasible. Employees should be reminded to limit physical gatherings with each other and third parties at all times. The government is moving away from the term “social distancing” and replacing it with “physical distancing” because they do not want people to emotionally distance themselves during the pandemic.
Sanitation Practices: Employers must ensure clean and sanitary restrooms with handwashing facilities located nearby. The restrooms should be regularly stocked with soap and single-use towels. Enough time must be provided to ensure frequent handwashing.
When an Employee Becomes Sick with COVID-19: Employees exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 per CDC guidelines should be sent home and/or instructed to seek medical care as needed. Sick workers should be encouraged to stay home through the use of work policies such as paid time off, increased sick leave, suspending “no-fault” absentee policies, and job protection for those staying at home. Employers can also consider implementing health screening programs through the use of temperature checks.
Agricultural employers should follow the following industry-specific guidelines:
- Provide additional shade structures to allow employees to take breaks at least six feet apart.
- Employers that house workers are encouraged to make physical distancing possible and to take affirmative steps to quarantine any housed worker exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
- Employers should also establish a specific location and protocols for receiving regular deliveries away from on-farm high-traffic areas and housing.
Construction employers should follow the following industry-specific guidelines:
- Employers should designate a site-specific COVID-19 officer at every job site to observe and ensure workers are implementing safety measures at the worksite.
- Identify choke points where workers are forced to stand together, such as in hallways, hoists, scaffolds, elevators or buses where physical distancing must be observed.
- Limit the number of personnel in small enclosed spaces, such as on elevators and allow for at least six feet of clearance between each other in these areas.
- Encourage employee hiring halls to implement social distancing measures.
- Create procedures to disinfect deliveries, such as wiping down boxes and deliveries.
- Limit the sharing of tools as much as possible. If they must be shared, they should be grouped together to be used by people who reside together or travel to work together.
- Fans must be placed to avoid blowing air from one worker or group of workers to another.
- Encourage workers to drive to worksites or parking areas by themselves.
- Provide marked single-use bottles rather than using shared water stations or dispensers.
Child care programs should adhere to the following industry-specific guidelines:
- Child care program administrators should train employees on the importance of frequent handwashing with soap and water (or using hand sanitizer where soap and water are not available), including:
- Before and after handling food, feeding a child, or eating.
- Before and after using the toilet, changing a diaper, helping a child use the bathroom (and washing the child’s hands), giving medicine, or wiping a child’s nose or mouth or tending to a cut or sore.
- After working in sandboxes and similar play areas.
- After handling wastebaskets or garbage.
- Ensure cleaners and disinfectants are used in a manner that does not endanger employees or children at the facility.
- Establish a daily system to check with parents and guardians on the status of their children when children are dropped off at the facility.
- Obtain e-mail addresses and home, work, and mobile phone numbers from parents and guardians of children at the facility.
- Create and test communication systems with parents and guardians, children at the facility, employees, facility management, and emergency medical services.
- Provide parents and guardians with information from the CDC on COVID-19 symptoms, transmission, prevention, and when to seek medical attention.
- Establish voluntary methods for parents and guardians to help screen their children for flu-like symptoms and encourage them to keep the children at home if they exhibit any symptom associated with COVID-19.
- Establish procedures to notify local health officials upon learning that someone who has been at the child care facility has a COVID-19 infection.
- Establish a curriculum and educational methods to inform children on how they can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- Establish a plan for children who become sick at the facility, including:
- Procedures for contacting parents and guardians and criteria for seeking medical assistance.
- Designating areas where sick children can be isolated and attended to by a limited number of trained staff.
- Providing masks for use by sick older children.
Grocery store employers should follow the following industry-specific guidelines:
- Stagger break and lunch times.
- Limit the crew per shift by staggering shifts or increasing the number of shifts.
- Utilize every other checkout register.
- Mark floors to ensure customers stay six feet apart.
- Limit the number of employee gatherings.
- Perform job interviews and orientations remotely.
- Post signs at all entrances with information to customers about infection control:
- Limiting the number of customers in the store.
- Requiring the use of face coverings.
- Requiring the use of hand sanitizer when entering the facility.
- Instructing customers to touch only those products they intend to purchase.
- Instructing customers to bag their own groceries and leave their own bags in the shopping carts.
- Encourage employees to use handheld scanners to minimize touching products.
- Encourage customers to use of payment cards and other forms of contactless payment.
- Increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting of bagging areas used by customers.
- Encourage employees to use online orders and pickups.
Employers in the logistics industry should adhere to the following-industry specific guidelines:
- Encourage employee hiring halls to implement social/physical distancing measures.
- Limit public access to the worksite where possible.
- Provide delivery drivers with alternatives to obtaining customer signatures.
- Limit direct hand-off of packages on pick-up and drop-off.
- Maintain distance from customers during deliveries.
- Create specific instructions for deliveries to the worksites.
- Provide a drop-off location with appropriate procedures and clear signage.
- Include contact information leading up to delivery and upon arrival.
- Change quotas or items-per-hour requirements that discourage employees from washing their hands.
- Provide employees with alternative restroom locations and allow time for employees to use them.
- If employees have limited access to handwashing, employers must provide employees with disposable gloves to limit contact with potentially contaminated surfaces.
- If they use gloves, employees should be encouraged to change them frequently and before touching their face, smoking, eating, or using the restroom.
- Provide hand sanitizer throughout worksites and to delivery drivers for times when access to soap and water may be limited.
Cal/OSHA’s general and industry-specific guidelines for these essential industries offer a helpful preview into how the agency will begin to enforce the state’s occupational health and safety laws in the context of COVID-19. Because these publications were intended for a much wider audience, however, they do not address the specific processes and procedures unique to each employer’s operations. As such, the analysis of whether an employer’s COVID-19 infection prevention measures would comply with Cal/OSHA’s safety standards necessarily must be performed on a case-by-case basis.