The law that would require employers to provide personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves, to employees is the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The OSH Act makes it clear, in Section (5a) (1), that employers “[S]hall furnish to each of his employees 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 to his employees.”
Unfortunately, the act does not necessarily cover issues relating to COVID-19, an airborne infectious disease, because it provides guidelines for things like pathogens and blood, but fails to mention airborne viruses.
OSHA Guidelines Ensure PPE Only for High-Risk Workers
So, for further clarification, we must refer to the COVID-19 guidelines issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in March 2020. These include promoting hand-washing to everyone on the premises, offering alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and providing tissues and trash receptacles.
According to these guidelines, employers are required to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, eye protection, and respirator equipment to employees only if they fall into a High or Very High risk category. Here are the criteria that define those levels of risk:
- Very High pertains to healthcare professionals who come into direct contact with known or suspected sources of COVID-19. Not all healthcare professionals fall into this category, however. This is specifically for people who are required to do things like induce a sick patient to cough.
- High pertains to people who would routinely come into contact with those who are infected with COVID-19, but who are unlikely to spread it to other people. Instances that are considered high risk include a healthcare provider who walks into rooms that contain infected patients.
Most workers, though, fall into either the Medium or Low risk category:
- Medium pertains to people who could come into contact with those who are infected with COVID-19 but who, themselves, might not become infected. This category would include delivery people, teachers, and retail workers.
- Low pertains to people who aren’t required to come into contact with people who are infected with COVID-19 or members of the general public.
If you don’t fall into either the High or Very High risk category, your employer may not have to provide PPE. But they still should be taking other precautions to safeguard your health and the health of your peers.
Workplace Changes Employers Should Make to Protect Employees
OSHA details where employees can expect to see changes from their employers. It refers to the changes as “workplace controls,” which it breaks down into four categories.
- Engineering controls: Actions that employers can take to separate employees from workplace dangers. For example, installing better air filter systems, or providing sneeze guards.
- Administrative controls: Measures that can be taken to change employee behavior, such as making it clear that sick employees should stay home, providing guidelines so that employees can remain at least six feet away from each other, and limiting or canceling travel to locations with COVID-19 outbreaks.
- Safe work practices: Employers should provide hand sanitizer and disinfecting products so that employees can keep their workspaces clean.
- Personal protective equipment: As noted earlier, PPE is considered an additional level of protection that is only required for high and very high-risk individuals.
If an employer may have violated OSHA’s guidelines and endangered your health or your loved one’s health during the COVID-19 pandemic, contact our attorneys today. We are America’s largest personal injury law firm, and we file more labor and employment lawsuits than any other firm. Plus, it costs nothing upfront to hire us, and we get paid only if you win.
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