While the coronavirus outbreak originated in China, it has the potential to become an international crisis. Design firms whose employees are in China, have traveled to China, or are in contact with anyone from an infected area need to take immediate precautions for employee safety.
OSHA requires that employers maintain a safe workplace. Beyond the obvious need to protect employees who may be at risk—and the need to address employee concerns about possible exposure—firms should be concerned about what they can and should do.
If employees have any potential exposure, firms might consider the following:
- Educating management and staff about the possibility and probability of infection.
- Restricting international travel to infected areas with a method to determine new locations of significant risk.
- Performing medical inquiries to the extent legally permitted.
- Permitting leaves of absences and work-from-home options to those concerned about exposure.
- Quarantining any employees who might have been exposed for the recognized incubation period.
Currently, there is no vaccine and the virus is spreading beyond China because of the ease of travel. Anxiety is spreading faster than the virus—although predictions suggest that over 100,000 may already be infected.
Firms should review their safety programs and emergency action plans to make sure they include infectious disease protocols that are compliant with OSHA and other health and safety regulations. While the best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that standard actions to prevent the circulation of respiratory viruses be emphasized. Firms with employees traveling to at-risk areas should track the possible exposure through the CDC Travelers’ Health website and the World Health Organization’s coronavirus website.
Every design firm should establish a written communicable illness policy and response plan that covers the coronavirus and other communicable diseases readily transmitted in the workplace. Firms can find additional advice on our website with the Management Advisory, “Pandemic Risks.”