COVID-19 Safety Updates
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Updated November 19, 2020 @ 2:45 PM
OSHA Issues Guidance for Workplace COVID-19 Ventilation Improvements
One of the primary pathways for spreading COVID-19 is the release of droplets in the air when talking, coughing, or sneezing by an infected person. These droplets may travel up to 6 feet, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said that smaller COVID-19 particles can travel longer distances in enclosed spaces that have inadequate ventilation. Therefore, enclosed areas and offices that do not have proper ventilation can pose an increased infection risk to employees.
With the weather turning colder and people moving indoors into more confined spaces, there has been a rise in COVID-19 infections. Ventilation, or the process of introducing outdoor air to the indoors, can reduce the COVID-19 particles circulating indoors. To address the need to improve ventilation in indoor spaces, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), recently released guidance (PDF) instructing companies to consider steps to optimize building ventilation.
Among the recommendations, OSHA urges workplaces to ensure all Heating Ventilation and Air Condition (HVAC) systems are functional and to use filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value rating of 13. OSHA also recommends the introduction of fresh air by increasing the HVAC's outdoor air intake or open windows where possible, and to keep exhaust fans running at maximum capacity in restrooms.
One of the recommendations included in the guidance comes from the American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHAE) to have employees that are changing filters to wear proper Personal Protective equipment such as N95 respirator, eye protection (e.g., safety glasses, goggles, or face shields), and disposable gloves. It is important to understand that if a N95 respirator is used by any employee, then a respirator program (e.g., written program, medical evaluation, fit testing, employee training, etc.) must be developed and implemented. Not having such a program is one of the top OSHA citations occurring during the pandemic.
Areas with good ventilation will reduce the risk of infection for employees. Along with keeping windows open and bringing fresh air inside, workspaces can reduce the spread of coronavirus by enhancing sanitation, encouraging improved hygiene practices, wearing face mask and coverings, providing for social distancing, staggering shifts, keeping remote work, and using flexible schedules when possible.
Gary A. Jones is the director of environmental, health and safety (EHS) affairs at the PRINTING United Alliance in Fairfax, VA. His primary responsibility is to monitor and analyze EHS regulatory activities at all domestic and some international government levels. He provides representation on behalf of the printing and specialty graphic imaging industry.