Guest Authored by Jim Verdi.

On May 14, 2020, OSHA issued an “Industry-Specific Alert” for retail pharmacies that provides suggestions employers should implement to prevent the spread of COVID-19. OSHA’s Alerts do not have the force of formal regulations, so a failure to implement a specific suggestion cannot automatically serve as a basis for a citation.  However, OSHA could use the information in these Alerts to establish that employers know about a hazard in the workplace. Employers that do not implement these specific suggestions could face an OSHA inspection—or citation—for failure to remove a known hazard in the workplace.

Still, the alert generally duplicates recommendations that have previously been suggested by the CDC or already are required under various State Orders.  The Alert provides the following suggestions:

Engineering Controls

  • Install clear plastic barriers between workers and customers at order/pickup counters.
  • Use signage and floor markers to keep waiting customers at least six feet from the counter, other customers, and pharmacy staff.

Administrative Controls

  • Encourage workers who are sick to stay at home.
  • Encourage drive-through or curbside pickup and home delivery, where feasible.
  • Encourage customers to submit prescriptions online or by phone.
  • Allow customers to provide their insurance information verbally or virtually (e.g., through mobile apps or the pharmacy’s website).
  • Specify hours dedicated to vulnerable populations (the elderly, people with underlying health conditions, etc.).
  • Increase the use of self-serve checkout to minimize worker interaction with customers.
  • Limit the number of customers allowed inside the facility at any point.

Enhanced Cleaning

  • Frequently clean and disinfect checkout and customer service counters.
  • Provide a place to wash hands and alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol.

Face Masks and PPE

  • Allow workers to wear cloth face coverings or surgical masks over their nose and mouth to prevent them from spreading the virus.
  • Provide gloves and eye and face protection, as necessary, for workers in the pharmacy.

Pharmacists that work in clinical settings or otherwise provide clinical services to patients likely require additional protections, and OSHA explicitly advises clinical pharmacies to consult OSHA’s guidance for healthcare workers.

Retail pharmacies must also consider relevant state orders, which may implement more stringent requirements and criminal penalties for employers that fail to implement them.  As many state orders continue to change (and some expire), OSHA’s Alert provides useful minimal requirements that retail pharmacies should consider in order to protect employees, minimize the risk of Covid-19, and avoid a citation.

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Photo of Tressi L. Cordaro Tressi L. Cordaro

Tressi L. Cordaro is a Principal in the Washington, D.C. Region office of Jackson Lewis P.C. She is co-leader of the firm’s Workplace Safety and Health Practice Group. She advises and represents employers on occupational safety and health matters before federal and state…

Tressi L. Cordaro is a Principal in the Washington, D.C. Region office of Jackson Lewis P.C. She is co-leader of the firm’s Workplace Safety and Health Practice Group. She advises and represents employers on occupational safety and health matters before federal and state OSHA enforcement agencies.

Ms. Cordaro has advised employers faced with willful and serious citations as the result of catastrophic events and fatalities, including citations involving multi-million dollar penalties. Ms. Cordaro’s approach to representing an employer cited by OSHA is to seek an efficient resolution of contested citations, reserving litigation as the option if the client’s business objectives cannot otherwise be achieved. As a result, she has secured OSHA withdrawals of citations without the need for litigation.

Ms. Cordaro’s unique experience with government agencies involved in OSHA enforcement enables her to provide employers with especially insightful guidance as to how regulators view OSHA compliance obligations, and evaluate contested cases.

Ms. Cordaro served as the Presidentially-appointed Legal Counsel and Special Advisor to the past Chairman and Commissioner Horace A. Thompson, III at the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission (OSHRC) in Washington, DC, the agency that adjudicates contested federal OSHA citations. As the Commissioner’s chief counsel, Ms. Cordaro analyzed all cases presented to the OSHRC and advocated the Commissioner’s position during decisional meetings.

In addition, Ms. Cordaro worked at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration developing OSHA standards, regulations and enforcement and compliance policies, with emphasis on the construction industry. She has in-depth experience on technical issues including, in particular, issues related to cranes and derricks in construction.