States Providing Guidance and Considering New Rules to Protect Agriculture Workers from COVID-19
As harvesting seasons approach, some state safety agencies have considered whether additional safety measures are needed to protect agricultural workers from potential exposures to coronavirus (“COVID-19”). In California, the state Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety & Health (“Cal OSHA”) released specific guidance on April 7, 2020 for agricultural employers. While noting that communicable diseases, such as COVID-19, are a recognized workplace hazard within the state, Cal OSHA advises California agricultural employers to ensure their Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (“IIPPs”) address potential exposures to COVID-19. Cal OSHA’s guidance goes on to make specific recommendations for agricultural employer’s IIPPs, which include:
Providing training to employees on how to recognize COVID-19 symptoms, methods of preventing transmission, and good hygiene practices.
Implementing procedures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 at worksites, such as methods for identifying and sending employees home that are sick, ensuring proper sanitation, and routine cleaning and disinfecting of hard surfaces.
Incorporating methods of physical distancing into all work practices, such as staggering work shifts, constructing additional shade structures to allow for employees to stand at least 6 ft. apart, and setting up quarantines for workers who live on site but who are exhibiting symptoms of illness.
State agricultural agencies in Minnesota and Connecticut have also published resources for agricultural employers on preparing for sick workers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and outbreaks. But, for the most part, guidance from these states corresponds with general recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) on preparing for COVID-19 exposures and do not contemplate new or additional safety measures.
In contrast, Oregon OSHA, is currently considering whether to initiate rulemaking on farmworker housing and field sanitation considering COVID-19 concerns. Oregon OSHA, in fact, requested public comments on a petition that requests Oregon OSHA issue rules requiring agricultural employers to provide toilets, clean transportation, COVID-19 training, and decongested living spaces. Comments on the petition closed on April 13, 2020 and Oregon OSHA is expected to decide on rulemaking needs relatively soon.
Employers should carefully assess how states are viewing worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic because state specific guidance and requirements may have a significant impact on the policies and procedures that employers need to address safety issues related to COVID-19 under state safety laws.