Cal/OSHA Issues Guidance for Agricultural Employers on COVID-19 Infection Prevention

Update: On May 5, 2020, Cal/OSHA published an update for its guidance on COVID-19 infection prevention for Agricultural Employers.  The update expands the symptoms of COVID-19 to include “chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or recent loss of taste or smell” and adds further guidance to “seek medical attention if the symptoms become severe including persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, or bluish lips or face” with instructions to consult the CDC’s webpage for updates and further details.”  

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The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, recently issued safety and health guidance for agricultural employers to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. California employers are required to establish and implement an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) to protect employees from all worksite hazards, including infectious diseases.  Since COVID-19 is widespread in the community, most California employers must consider the disease a workplace hazard.  As such, agricultural employers still operating during the pandemic must update their IIPP to include protocols for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.  Below is a summary of training guidelines, procedures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, guidance on physical distancing rules, and good sanitation practices agricultural employers should follow during the pandemic. 

Employee Training on COVID-19

Agricultural employers must provide training to their employees in a way that is readily understandable to all employees, including in the language primarily spoken by those employees.  Employees should be trained on the following topics:

  • Information related to COVID-19, including what it is, how it is spread, how to prevent the spread, and when to seek medical attention
  • The importance of frequent hand-washing with soap and water
  • Methods of avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Coughing and sneezing etiquette
  • Safe use of cleaners and disinfectants
  • Social distancing guidelines
  • Importance of not coming to work if they experience any symptoms associated with COVID-19 or have had exposure to someone diagnosed with the disease
  • The employer’s plan and procedures to protect employees from COVID-19

Procedures to Help Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace

The IIPP administrator should establish and implement the following procedures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Employees with acute respiratory illness must be sent home or seek medical treatment as needed
  • Establish procedures to notify local health officials upon learning that an employee has contracted COVID-19
  • Encourage sick workers to stay home and do not punish them for missing work 
  • Make hand-washing stations more readily available and encourage their use
  • Establish procedures to routinely clean and disinfect commonly touched workspaces (e.g., water containers, tools, workstations, doors)

Procedures to Promote Physical Distancing

Agricultural employers should use the following physical distancing measures to slow down the spread of COVID-19:             

  • Each employee should distance themselves at least six feet from other people at all times
  • Establish work practices to enable employees to maintain safe physical distancing while working
  • Stagger breaks and lunches to minimize physical contact between employees
  • Minimize crew sizes by staggering work shifts or increasing number of work shifts
  • Provide additional seating and shade structures to allow employees to take breaks at least six feet apart
  • Encourage employees to avoid large gatherings and to practice physical distancing during non-work hours
  • Employers that house workers are encouraged to be proactive in making physical distancing possible and to take affirmative steps to quarantine any housed worker exhibiting symptoms
  • Establish a specified location and protocols for receiving regular deliveries away from on-farm high-traffic areas and housing

Good Sanitation Practices

Agricultural employers must ensure bathrooms and hand-washing facilities are readily accessible to all employees at all times.  During this time, it is particularly important that the employer maintain the following sanitation practices: 

  • Restrooms must be clean and sanitary
  • Hand-washing facilities must be located at or near the restrooms
  • Soap and single-use towels must be provided
  • Additional hand-washing supplies must be placed close to work areas to allow for frequent hand-washing
  • Employers must allow sufficient time to allow for frequent hand-washing
  • Employer should frequently check and replenish supply of soap, paper towels, and toilet paper before items run out

Agricultural employers are encouraged to review the new Cal/OSHA guidance and consult with counsel if they have questions about compliance.

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.