This webpage provides information for workers and employers about the evolving coronavirus outbreak first identified in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. The information includes links to interim guidance and other resources for preventing exposures to, and infections with, 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Chinese authorities identified the new coronavirus, which has resulted in confirmed human infections in China and exported cases outside of China, including in the United States, Thailand, Japan, and South Korea. China also has reported spread of the virus from infected patients to healthcare workers.
There is no evidence of ongoing transmission of 2019-nCoV in the United States at this time. Without sustained human-to-human transmission, most American workers are not at significant risk of infection. However, workers involved in airline operations (including cabin crewmembers), healthcare (including clinical laboratory personnel), and border protection may have exposure to travelers infected with the virus in China or other affected areas. Business travelers from the United States who visit areas abroad where the virus is spreading may also be at some risk of exposure.
There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features associated with 2019-nCoV as the outbreak investigation continues. Based on how other similar viruses spread, infected people may be able to spread the 2019-nCoV through their respiratory secretions, especially when they cough or sneeze. Previous outbreaks of coronavirus have been associated with spread from ill people to others through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person.
Employers and workers should consult interim CDC guidance specific to 2019-nCoV, along with existing resources for other coronaviruses, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), for precautions appropriate for this similar virus.
Control and Prevention
Take steps to prevent worker exposure to 2019-nCov.
- All workers who may be exposed
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Healthcare workers
- Until more is known about how the 2019-nCoV spreads, CDC and OSHA recommend using a combination of standard, contact, and airborne precautions (including wearing gowns, gloves, NIOSH-certified disposable N95 or better respirators, and eye/face protection) to protect workers with exposure to the virus.
- CDC interim infection control recommendations
- World Health Organization (WHO) interim guidance on infection prevention and control during health care when nCoV infection is suspected
- Clinical laboratory workers
- Airline workers
- Border protection workers
- Consult OSHA’s general MERS infection prevention and control recommendations.
- Waste management workers
- Workers and employers should manage waste contaminated with 2019-nCoV as they would other regulated medical waste. (The 2019-nCoV is not a Category A infectious substance.)
- Use appropriate engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE, such as puncture-resistant gloves and face/eye protection, to prevent worker exposure to medical waste, including sharps and other items that can cause injuries or exposures to infectious materials.
- Consult the regulated medical waste information in CDC’s guidelines for environmental infection control in healthcare facilities, CDC’s interim infection prevention and control recommendations for hospitalized patients with MERS, and OSHA’s general MERS infection prevention and control recommendations.
- U.S. business travelers
This section highlights OSHA standards and directives (instructions for compliance officers) and other related information that may apply to worker exposure to 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
There is no specific OSHA standard covering 2019-nCoV. However, some OSHA requirements may apply to preventing occupational exposure to 2019-nCoV. Among the most relevant are:
- OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards (in general industry, 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I), which require using gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection.
- The General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, 29 USC 654(a)(1), which requires employers to furnish to each worker “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) applies to occupational exposure to human blood and other potentially infectious materials that typically do not include respiratory secretions that may transmit 2019-nCoV. However, the provisions of the standard offer a framework that may help control some sources of the virus, including exposures to body fluids (e.g., respiratory secretions) not covered by the standard.
There are twenty-eight OSHA-approved State Plans, operating state-wide occupational safety and health programs. State Plans are required to have standards and enforcement programs that are at least as effective as OSHA’s and may have different or more stringent requirements.
Employers must also protect their workers from exposure to chemicals used for cleaning and disinfection. Employers should be aware that common sanitizers and sterilizers could contain hazardous chemicals. Where workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals, employers must comply with OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard (in general industry, 29 CFR 1910.1200) and other applicable OSHA chemical standards. OSHA provides information about hazardous chemicals used in hospitals in the Housekeeping section of its Hospital eTool.
Other relevant OSHA standards
Depending on the specific work task, setting, and exposure to other biological or chemical agents, additional OSHA requirements that may apply include:
Recordkeeping and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness (29 CFR 1904)
|29 CFR 1904 – Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness|
General Industry (29 CFR 1910)
|1910 Subpart I – Personal Protective Equipment||1910.132, General requirements|
|1910.133, Eye and face protection|
|1910.134, Respiratory protection|
|1910.138, Hand protection|
|Subpart J – General Environmental Controls||1910.141, Sanitation|
|Subpart Z – Toxic and Hazardous Substances|
|1910.1020, Access to employee exposure and medical records|
|1910.1030, Bloodborne pathogens|
|1910.1200, Hazard communication|
Federal Agencies (29 CFR 1960)
|29 CFR 1960 – Basic Program Elements for Federal Employee Occupational Safety and Health Programs and Related Matters|
Note: The “Directives” bullets above link to directives related to each OSHA standard. The directives in this list provide additional information that is not necessarily connected to a specific OSHA standard highlighted on this Safety and Health Topics page.
- Rules of agency practice and procedure concerning OSHA access to employee medical records. CPL 02-02-072, (August 22, 2007). Provides guidance to OSHA personnel concerning rule application and agency practice and procedure set forth at 29 CFR 1913.10 when accessing personally identifiable worker medical records. Guidance also covers authorization by the Assistant Secretary to conduct a limited worker medical information review when: 1) OSHA standards require such information; and 2) there is a need to gain access to determine compliance.
Workers’ Rights and Employers’ Responsibilities
Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 USC 660(c), prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for raising concerns about safety and health conditions. Additionally, OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the provisions of more than 20 industry specific federal laws protecting employees from retaliation for raising or reporting concerns about hazards or violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws. OSHA encourages workers who suffer such retaliation to submit a complaint to OSHA as soon as possible in order to file their complaint within the legal time limits, some of which may be as short as 30 days from the date they learned of or experienced retaliation. An employee can file a complaint with OSHA by visiting or calling his or her local OSHA office; sending a written complaint via fax, mail, or email to the closest OSHA office; or filing a complaint online. No particular form is required and complaints may be submitted in any language.
OSHA provides recommendations intended to assist employers in creating workplaces that are free of retaliation and guidance to employers on how to properly respond to workers who may complain about workplace hazards or potential violations of federal laws. OSHA urges employers to review its publication: Recommended Practices for Anti-Retaliation Programs (OSHA 3905 – 2017).