Recording workplace exposures to COVID-19
COVID-19 can be a recordable illness if a worker is infected as a result of performing their work-related duties. However, employers are only responsible for recording cases of COVID-19 if all of the following are true:
- The case is a confirmed case of COVID-19 (see CDC information on persons under investigation and presumptive positive and laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19);
- The case is work-related (as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5); and
- The case involves one or more of the general recording criteria set forth in 29 CFR 1904.7 (e.g., medical treatment beyond first aid, days away from work).
Visit OSHA's Injury and Illness Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements page for more information.
This section highlights OSHA standards and directives (instructions for compliance officers) and other related information that may apply to worker exposure to the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
OSHA requirements apply to preventing occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Among the most relevant are:
- OSHA's Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards (in general industry, 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I), and, in construction, 29 CFR 1926 Subpart E), which require that a PPE hazard assessment be conducted to assess workplace hazards, and that PPE, such as respiratory protection, be used when necessary.
- When respirators are necessary to protect workers, employers must implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program in accordance with the Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134).
- 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 contain SARS-CoV-2 (unless visible blood is present). 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.
There are 28 OSHA-approved State Plans, operating statewide occupational safety and health programs. State Plans are required to have standards and enforcement programs that are at least as effective as OSHA's and may have different or more stringent requirements.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard is aimed at preventing worker illness from infectious diseases that can be transmitted by inhaling air that contains viruses (including SARS-CoV-2), bacteria or other disease-causing organisms. While the Cal/OSHA ATD standard is only mandatory for certain healthcare employers in California, it may provide useful guidance for protecting other workers exposed to SARS-CoV-2.
Employers must also protect their workers from exposure to hazardous 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), Personal Protective Equipment standards (in general industry, 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I, and, in construction, 29 CFR 1926 Subpart E), and other applicable OSHA chemical standards. OSHA provides information about hazardous chemicals used in hospitals in the Housekeeping section of its Hospital eTool.
Other relevant OSHA standards
Depending on the specific work task, setting, exposure to other biological or chemical agents, or retaliatory action taken against employees (See 29 CFR 1904.35(b)(1)(iv)), additional OSHA requirements that may apply include:
Recordkeeping and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness (29 CFR 1904)
|29 CFR 1904 – Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness|
General Industry (29 CFR 1910)
|1910 Subpart I – Personal Protective Equipment|
|1910.132, General requirements|
|1910.133, Eye and face protection|
|1910.134, Respiratory protection|
|1910.138, Hand protection|
|Subpart J – General Environmental Controls||1910.141, Sanitation|
|1910.142, Temporary Labor Camps|
|Subpart Z – Toxic and Hazardous Substances|
|1910.1020, Access to employee exposure and medical records|
|1910.1030, Bloodborne pathogens|
|1910.1200, Hazard communication|
|1910.1450, Occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals in laboratories|
Construction (29 CFR 1926)
|Subpart C – General Safety and Health Provisions||1926.33, Access to employee exposure and medical records|
|Subpart D – Occupational Health and Environmental Controls||1926.51, Sanitation|
|Subpart E – Personal Protective Equipment and Life Saving Equipment||1926.95, Criteria for personal protective equipment|
|1926.102, Eye and face protection|
|1926.103, Respiratory protection|
Agriculture (29 CFR 1928)
|Subpart I – General Environmental Controls||
1928.110, Field sanitation
Federal Agencies (29 CFR 1960)
|29 CFR 1960 – Basic Program Elements for Federal Employee Occupational Safety and Health Programs and Related Matters|
Interim Enforcement Response Plan
OSHA's interim enforcement response plan memoranda provide instructions and guidance to Area Offices and compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) for handling COVID-19-related complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports. The Interim Enforcement Response Plan for COVID-19 was issued on April 13, 2020, updated on May 19, 2020. On March 12, 2021, the May 19, 2020, memorandum on this topic was rescinded, and the new Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan for COVID-19 went into and remains in effect until further notice.
|Memorandum||Applies to||Effective Date||Status||Related Information|
|Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)||Respiratory Protection (29 CFR 1910.134), Required annual fit-testing (paragraph (f)(2))||March 12, 2021||Remains in effect|
|Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)||Respiratory Protection (29 CFR 1910.134), Required annual fit-testing (paragraph (f)(2))||May 19, 2020||Archived (as of March 12, 2021)|
|Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)||April 13, 2020||Archived (as of May 20, 2020)|
OSHA recognizes that employers in many sectors may experience challenges in complying with certain provisions of the agency's standards as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including where those standards require the use of certain types of PPE (e.g., respirators) or provision of medical surveillance and training to workers. Accordingly, OSHA is providing enforcement flexibilities for specific provisions of certain standards and requirements to address these challenges and help ensure the continued protection of worker safety and health.
Enforcement Discretion for Respiratory Protection (29 CFR 1910.134)
In 2020 general use respirators were made available for healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. OSHA issued temporary enforcement guidance for:
Enforcement Discretion for Other OSHA Standards and Requirements
|Memorandum||Applies to||Effective Date||Status||Related Information|
|Revised Enforcement Guidance for Recording Cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)||Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness (29 CFR 1904)||May 26, 2020||Remains in effect|
|Discretion in Enforcement when Considering an Employer's Good Faith Efforts During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic||Various standards that require annual or recurring audits, reviews, training, or assessments; see memorandum for details.||April 16, 2020||Remains in effect|
|Enforcement Guidance for Recording Cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)||Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness (29 CFR 1904)||April 10, 2020 – May 25, 2020||Archived (as of May 26, 2020)|
Note: The "Directives" bullets above link to directives related to each OSHA standard. The directives in this list provide additional information that is not necessarily connected to a specific OSHA standard highlighted on this Safety and Health Topics page.
- National Emphasis Program – Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). DIR 2021-01 (CPL-03), (March 12, 2021). Describes policies and procedures for implementing a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to ensure that employees in high-hazard industries are protected from the hazard of contracting SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) infection, the cause of COVID-19. The NEP augments OSHA’s efforts addressing unprogrammed, COVID-19-related activities, e.g., complaints, referrals, and severe incident reports, by adding a component targeting specific high-hazard industries or activities where this hazard is prevalent. The NEP targets establishments that have workers with increased potential exposure to this hazard. In addition, this NEP includes an added focus to ensure that workers are protected from retaliation and are accomplishing this by preventing retaliation where possible, distributing anti-retaliation information during inspections, and outreach opportunities, as well as promptly referring allegations of retaliation to the Whistleblower Protection Program.
- Rules of agency practice and procedure concerning OSHA access to employee medical records. CPL 02-02-072, (August 22, 2007). Provides guidance to OSHA personnel concerning rule application and agency practice and procedure set forth at 29 CFR 1913.10 when accessing personally identifiable worker medical records. The guidance also covers authorization by the Assistant Secretary to conduct a limited worker medical information review when: 1) OSHA standards require such information, and 2) there is a need to gain access to determine compliance.
Workers' Rights and Employers' Responsibilities
Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 USC 660(c), prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising a variety of rights guaranteed under the OSH Act, such as filing a safety or health complaint with OSHA, raising a health and safety concern with their employers, participating in an OSHA inspection, or reporting a work-related injury or illness. Additionally, OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the provisions of more than 20 industry-specific federal laws protecting employees from retaliation for raising or reporting concerns about hazards or violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, securities, and tax laws. OSHA encourages workers who suffer such retaliation to submit a complaint to OSHA as soon as possible in order to file their complaint within the legal time limits, some of which may be as short as 30 days from the date they learned of or experienced retaliation. An employee can file a complaint with OSHA by visiting or calling his or her local OSHA office; sending a written complaint via fax, mail, or email to the closest OSHA office; or filing a complaint online. No particular form is required and complaints may be submitted in any language.
OSHA provides recommendations intended to assist employers in creating workplaces that are free of retaliation and guidance to employers on how to properly respond to workers who may complain about workplace hazards or potential violations of federal laws. OSHA urges employers to review its publication: Recommended Practices for Anti-Retaliation Programs (OSHA 3905 - 01/2017).