Key Takeaways

This study provides a compendium of OSH professionals’ early workplace response to SARS-CoV-2, popularly recognized as the COVID-19 pandemic.

A consolidated list of practices adopted for health screenings, human interaction control, barriers, touch surfaces, cleaning and disinfecting, communication, reporting and quarantine are provided.

Descriptive statistics of respondent perceptions about numerous related factors are also summarized, including response adequacy and impact to normal OSH routines.

A significant association was found to exist between organization relative risk level and the frequency of pandemic planning. Statistically significant results were also found for pandemic planning and availability of PPE.

On January 9, 2020, World Health Organization (WHO) alerted that a coronavirus-related pneumonia had been discovered in Wuhan, China; on March 11 it declared that a pandemic had resulted. This news was quickly followed by a U.S. national emergency declaration, subsequent travel bans, stay-at-home orders, and the shuttering of schools, universities and nonessential businesses (AJMC, 2020). Organizations of every description and the employees serving them have since attempted to learn how to coexist with a lethal virus that spreads easily between people and mainly through respiratory droplets (CDC, 2020). There is no modern playbook describing how to best proceed since the most recent comparable event was more than 100 years ago (Barry, 2004; Kolata, 2019). Misinformation abounds (Brennen et al., n.d.; Kouzy et al., 2020; Pennycook et al., 2020), while reliable data emerges erratically at best (Del Rio & Malani, 2020).

Those serving as OSH professionals in innumerable workplaces have been no less challenged. Their charge is the prevention of workplace injury and illness (ASSP, 2020), yet no single approach is proven best. Even the basics of infection prevention are evolving and vary depending on the source considered (American Red Cross, n.d.; CDC, 2020; WHO, 2020a).

The surest prescription by OSH professionals, of course, would be to eliminate any and all possible interactions between workers. However, such an approach proves impractical. The task, then, has been to prescribe how best to dance with a metaphorical devil such that worker infection risk is minimized as organizations continue to operate or attempt to reopen. The accepted paradigm has been that the two propositions, albeit challenged, are not mutually exclusive, although OSH professionals have had to rapidly innovate, test and revise their strategies. Learning to fly a plane even as it is being designed proves an apt analogy. Already, there are lessons to be learned. This study was undertaken to produce a baseline of OSH professional COVID-19 response, and to begin the process of capturing lessons learned. The role of pandemic planning and relative organization OSH risk were thought specifically important variables to explore.

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