New CDC guidance helps employers keep critical infrastructure workers safe

Employers are now faced daily with new issues and concerns about how to keep their essential infrastructure workers safe while attempting to operate during the coronavirus crisis. The CDC’s resources and the OSHA’s "Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19" have been required reading for employers. Now, the CDC has issued a one page guidance document, "Interim Guidance for Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19," that concisely addresses some of the key concerns. The new CDC guidance provides insight into one of the most pressing issues: What should an employer do in a potential employee exposure situation? 

The CDC guidance states that:  

“To ensure continuity of operations of essential functions, CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.”

The advice that an employee can continue to work following a potential exposure is a valuable insight for employers who, frankly, are often uncertain about how to respond to potential exposures.  

The CDC Guidance also addresses the additional precautions that employers should take in response to a potential exposure:

  • Pre-screen: Employers should measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.
  • Regular monitoring: As long as the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
  • Wear a mask: The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure. Employers can issue facemasks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages.
  • Social distance: The employee should maintain six feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
  • Disinfect and clean work spaces: Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely.

The guidance further addresses how to respond when an employee shows symptoms at work:  

  • Send a sick employee home. If an employee becomes sick during the work day, the employer should send the employee home immediately.
  • Clean/disinfect surfaces. Following the employee’s departure, surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected.
  • Determine close contacts. Information on persons in contact with the ill employee while showing symptoms and for 2 days prior should be compiled. Those with close contact within 6 feet during that time should be considered exposed, which means the procedures noted above should be followed.

To help essential critical workers practically deal with a potential exposure, the CDC has also issued safety flyers with does and don’ts for employees and employers.

In dealing with the myriad of issues that employers are facing on a daily basis, this CDC guidance is welcome as concise, practical, and instructive guidance.

The McDonald Hopkins Labor and Employment Response Team will continue to monitor developments and provide additional updates on employment issues impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.   

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