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Release Number: 2020-08
February 3, 2020

Cal/OSHA Issues Guidance on Requirements to Protect Health Care Workers from 2019 Novel Coronavirus

Oakland—Cal/OSHA is issuing guidance on protecting health care workers from exposure to 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The guidance covers the safety requirements when providing care for suspected or confirmed patients of the respiratory disease or when handling pathogens in laboratory settings in California.

“It is vital that employers take the necessary steps to protect workers in health care settings where they may be at risk of exposure to 2019 Novel Coronavirus,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker. “Cal/OSHA will provide guidance and resources on how to protect workers from this airborne infectious disease.” 

The risk for infection is higher in health care settings such as hospitals and clinical laboratories. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is providing updates and closely monitoring suspected cases of 2019-nCoV infection and transmission.

2019-nCoV is an airborne infectious disease covered by Cal/OSHA’s Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard, which requires employers to protect workers from diseases and pathogens transmitted by aerosols.

The ATD standard requires employers to have an ATD Exposure Control Plan with procedures to identify 2019-nCoV cases or suspected cases as soon as possible and protect employees from infection.

The ATD standard further requires employers to provide training on the:

  • Signs and symptoms of 2019-nCoV.
  • Modes of transmission of the disease and source control procedures.
  • Tasks and activities that may expose the employee to 2019-nCoV.
  • Use and limitations of methods to prevent or reduce exposure to the disease including decontamination and disinfection procedures.
  • Selection of personal protective equipment, its uses and limitations, and the types, proper use, location, removal, handling, cleaning, decontamination and disposal of protective equipment.
  • Proper use of respirators.
  • Available vaccines, when they become available.
  • Employer's plan if an exposure incident occurs and surge plan, if applicable.

Employers must use feasible engineering and work practice controls to minimize employee exposure to 2019-nCoV. Examples of engineering controls include airborne infection isolation rooms or areas, exhaust ventilation, air filtration and air disinfection. Work practice controls include procedures for safely moving patients through the operation or facility, handwashing, personal protective equipment donning and doffing procedures, the use of anterooms, and cleaning and disinfecting contaminated surfaces, protective equipment, articles and linens.

Visit Cal/OSHA’s webpage for further interim guidance on 2019-nCoV exposure in health care settings. In order to help employers comply with the ATD standard, Cal/OSHA has posted several publications including The California Workplace Guide to Aerosol Transmissible Diseases and fillable ATD model exposure control and laboratory biosafety plans.

Several occupational safety and health standards, including Cal/OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard adopted in 1992 and the ATD Standard adopted in 2009, address worker protections when exposure to infectious diseases including coronavirus may occur in health care settings. The standards apply to hospital workers and emergency medical services, as well as workers in biological laboratories, decontamination workers, public health workers, or public safety employees who may be exposed to infectious disease hazards.

Cal/OSHA reminds all employers and workers that any suspected cases of 2019-nCoV must be promptly reported to the local public health department.

The California Department of Public Health has updated information on 2019-nCoV and reporting requirements. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also posted specific information for health care workers and laboratory settings.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, is the division within the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) that helps protect California’s workers from health and safety hazards on the job in almost every workplace. Cal/OSHA’s Consultation Services Branch provides free and voluntary assistance to employers to improve their safety and health programs. Employers should call (800) 963-9424 for assistance from Cal/OSHA Consultation Services.

Employees with work-related questions or complaints may contact DIR’s Call Center in English or Spanish at 844-LABOR-DIR (844-522-6734).

Contact: Erika Monterroza / Frank Polizzi, Communications@dir.ca.gov, (510) 286-1161