COVID-19 Update: Get Ready for the HEROES Acts OSHA Requirements

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The HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act) requires, “Not later than 24 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Labor shall, pursuant to section 6 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (29 U.S.C. 655), promulgate a final standard—(1) to protect employees” who are at occupational risk for exposure to SARS-CoV-2 …from occupational exposure to infectious pathogens, including novel pathogens.” The legislation also requires the Department of Labor, i.e. OSHA, to develop a temporary standard within 7 days of enactment.

Why You Should Attend:

The HEROES Act has, as of June 29, passed the House of Representatives. If it passes the Senate, organizations will need to develop processes and programs to protect employees from COVID-19 and other novel pathogens. Even if the HEROES Act does not become law, it is still desirable to protect workers, customers, and other stakeholders from COVID-19 and to avoid additional shutdowns like the ones that were necessary in the first part of 2020.

As of the end of June, in fact, parts of the country are repeating the mistakes that were made in 1918 when people let their guard down after the influenza epidemic appeared to decline. “Wait for a vaccine” is meanwhile not an option because it might not be ready for several months, and viruses can mutate into forms against which vaccines will not work; this is why we need a new flu vaccine every year.

This webinar will give attendees a head start on any forthcoming OSHA regulations, for which OSHA’s “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19” ( offers a good preview of what to expect.

Areas Covered in the Session :

  1. HEROES Act’s requirements for an OSHA standard or regulation for workplace protection against COVID-19 and similar pathogens
  2. Basic planning principles
    • Plan for two primary contingencies or hazards; contagion from a cough, and contagion from contaminated surfaces. Countermeasures that will stop a cough will cover ordinary speech and respiration as well, but not necessarily the other way around.
    • Experiments performed in 1918 and more recently show that a cough can propagate bacteria or viruses to 10 or more feet as opposed to 6 feet.
    • Create a risk registry of activities (jobs) and locations that can expose people to COVID-19. Involve employees and other stakeholders in planning.
    • Most jobs outside of health care and emergency response are probably medium risk as defined by OSHA. The good news is that most of these jobs should not require an OSHA-compliant respiratory protection program.
    • Hierarchy of controls in order of desirability: eliminate the hazard, reduce the hazard, engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment
  1. Eliminate the hazard through telecommuting, distance education, and distance conferencing. This offers substantial economic savings as well through elimination of commuting, lodging, and office and classroom facilities. These savings can be shared between workers, owners, and customers.
  2. Reduce the hazard by substituting less hazardous conditions (e.g. drive-through banking versus at the service desk). If occasional face-to-face meetings are required, office and conference space can be rented for far less cost than that associated with full-time facilities.
  3. Engineering controls do not rely on vigilance and compliance.
    • Distance (between respiratory tracts) is our friend and can be added with partitions, and without the need for more floor space per employee or customer.
    • Air handling systems can play a major role in workplace protection. ASHRAE offers additional guidance.
  1. Administrative controls rely on vigilance and compliance.
    • Staggered shifts and meal breaks reduce the number of people present at any given time.
    • Ensure the availability of hand hygiene and similar supplies,
    • Attendance policies and incentives must not encourage or require sick employees to come to work.
  1. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a last line of defense. If N95 and similar respirators are available, though, it is a very good one.
    • Face masks offer mediocre and variable (for improvised ones) to substantial and consistent (for surgical masks that meet ASTM standards) individual protection and can be used when respirators are not required.
    • When OSHA or other regulations require respiratory protection, however, face masks will not do. The organization must not only supply respirators (N95 or better) but must also have a written respiratory protection program for evaluating, fitting, and training employees. The good news is however that it does not look like medium risk jobs will require this.
    • Beware of substandard or counterfeit PPE.

Disclaimer: No part of this presentation constitutes formal engineering or occupational health and safety advice. The presentation gives links and references to authoritative sources (such as OSHA and ASHRAE) whose specific guidance should be followed for this purpose.

Who Should Attend:

Everyone with responsibility for reopening businesses in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as people with responsibility for occupational health and safety (OH&S) compliance along with building layouts and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC).

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