On June 25, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in consultation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), released joint interim guidance to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 among seafood industry workers who continue to work in either onshore facilities or offshore vessels during the pandemic. These workers are considered part of the “critical infrastructure” and may continue working following potential exposure to SARS-CoV-2, provided they remain asymptomatic, have not tested positive for COVID-19, and “additional precautions are implemented to protect the workers and the community.”
Importantly, the interim guidance highlights that the workers are not exposed to SARS-CoV-2 through the seafood products they handle, but rather through close contact with coworkers and supervisors. The interim guidance details various prevention and control strategies that employers should consider when implementing a COVID-19 response plan during the pandemic. The response plan may differ depending on the size of the operation, whether the factory is onshore or offshore, and the outbreak conditions in the local area or ports. A qualified workplace coordinator should be appointed who will be responsible for assessment and control planning.
There are additional measures identified in the Interim Guidance that may be implemented to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 among seafood industry workers who continue to work during the pandemic.
Notably, the interim guidance states that it may be difficult for employers to comply with certain OSHA standards due to the ongoing health emergency, including those standards that require certain types of worker training. Enforcement discretion around completion of training and other provisions in the various standards will be exercised and evaluated based on whether an employer has made a good faith effort to comply with applicable OSHA standards. In situations where compliance was not possible given the ongoing pandemic, it is important that employers ensure that employees are not exposed to hazards from tasks, processes, or equipment for which they were not prepared or trained.