As statewide shutdowns ease and more businesses begin to reopen, new federal rules are forcing employers to take a hard look at how they track employees diagnosed with COVID-19 and search for new tools to help them meet the mandates.
Until last month, only employers in the healthcare industry, emergency response field and correctional institutions had to make “work-relatedness determinations” about coronavirus transmission on the job. But in May, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration released updated policies that broadened the list of employers with coronavirus-related record-keeping requirements.
Now, COVID-19 is considered a recordable illness for all employers that are covered by OSHA’s record-keeping regulations. Workplaces must record cases of the coronavirus if it’s a confirmed case of COVID-19, is work-related and involves one or more of the general recording criteria, such as requiring medical treatment beyond first aid or days away from work.
At the same time, OSHA is stepping up its in-person inspections of all workplaces and prioritizing COVID-19 inspections. The agency, according to a press release, “will utilize all enforcement tools as OSHA has historically done.”
Some states are beginning to boost their protections for workers as they return to work during the pandemic too. In May, for example, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order that takes the burden off workers who believe they contracted COVID-19 at work and makes it easier for them to qualify for workers’ compensation. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed legislation this week to provide special enhanced benefits for essential workers. More states are expected to follow.
Determining exactly how an employee picked up the illness, of course, is tricky during a pandemic when the virus is found throughout communities. OSHA acknowledges the difficulty, but doesn’t let employers off the hook.
“Given the nature of the disease and community spread, however, in many instances it remains difficult to determine whether a coronavirus illness is work-related, especially when an employee has experienced potential exposure both in and out of the workplace,” the agency wrote in a press release. “OSHA’s guidance emphasizes that employers must make reasonable efforts, based on the evidence available to the employer, to ascertain whether a particular case of coronavirus is work-related.”
OSHA provides some guidance on how to prepare workplaces for COVID-19, including more specific recommendations for industries such as the construction sector. But there is more work that employers need to do beyond providing personal protective equipment, limiting jobsite access and installing physical barriers. To comply with these new record-keeping rules, organizations also must figure out ways to ensure that workers are maintaining a safe distance from each other and to quickly identify which employees may have been exposed to a colleague diagnosed with COVID-19.
Technology is one way that can help.
Social distancing and digital contract tracing technology can support the new OSHA policy by providing proximity alerts when workers stand too close together and record these close contact interactions. Here’s how they work.
Social Distancing Technology
Local, state, federal and global health agencies agree that a minimum of six feet of social distancing is necessary to limit the spread of the coronavirus. With social distancing technology, companies no longer have to rely on eagle-eyed supervisors to pull apart workers who get too close together.
Instead, these wearable technologies provide active feedback with visual cues or audible alarms so that workers who get too close immediately know that it’s time to move farther apart.
Contract Tracing Technology
Across the country, state and local governments are launching contract tracing initiatives to determine who a person with COVID-19 has been in contact with over a period of time.
But, on jobsites, work facilities and at offices, tracking who an employee has been around over a period of days and weeks can take time, especially if the worker is highly transient throughout the day.
Contract tracing technology that utilizes wearable devices enables the passive collection of worker interactions. These platforms identify who was in close proximity to each other while they are at a worksite. If an individual at that site tests positive for the coronavirus, these proactive, automated systems provide accurate data that employers can quickly pull up as they seek to comply with the latest OSHA rules and keep their workers safe.
For employers, engineered solutions like these can make it easier to provide their employees with a safer working environment as they aim to both get back to business and limit the spread of the coronavirus. Ready to learn more? Ask us about Proximity Trace.