Reopening Considerations:  DOL’s Request for Reopening Insights from Public and EPA and CDC’s Joint Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Worksites

May 1, 2020
As states ease or lift their stay-at-home orders and employers consider returning to in-person operations, two recent federal actions may be of interest. 

First, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) is currently soliciting ideas from all Americans about how to safely reopen workplaces.  Specifically, the DOL is seeking input regarding reopening businesses, commuting and working safely, accommodating vulnerable members of the population, supporting America’s families and reducing regulatory burdens.  Ideas can be submitted at until May 7, 2020, and submissions can be viewed in real time.

Second, on April 29, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (the “EPA”) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”) released joint guidance regarding the cleaning and disinfecting of worksites, public spaces, businesses, schools and homes (the “Joint Guidance”).  The Joint Guidance is “intended for all Americans,” and was developed in concert with the White House as part of the larger “Opening Up America Again” guidelines.  Employers may wish to reference the Joint Guidance when developing environmental cleaning plans as part of their reopening protocols.
  • General Framework for Cleaning and Disinfecting.  The Joint Guidance first sets out a general framework for cleaning and disinfecting practices:
  1. Normal routine cleaning (i.e., using soap and water) will decrease how much of the virus is on surfaces and objects, which reduces the risk of exposure.
  2. Disinfection (i.e., using EPA-approved disinfectants against COVID-19) can also help reduce the risk.  Frequent disinfection of surfaces and objects that are routinely touched by multiple people is important.
  3. When EPA-approved disinfectants are not available, alternative disinfectants can be used.
The Joint Guidance then addresses the following topics:
  • Developing a Plan.  A key step in properly cleaning and disinfecting any area is to first develop a plan, beginning with an evaluation of the area to be cleaned and what types of surfaces or materials make up that area.  A well-developed plan for a particular area will consider what needs to be cleaned, what needs to be disinfected and the necessary resources and equipment.
    • What Needs to be Cleaned.  Most surfaces and objects will require only normal routine cleaning.  Some items, such as rugs and seating, may be relocated or removed to avoid frequent touching and reduce the potential difficulties of cleaning and disinfecting them.  While outdoor areas generally require only normal routine cleaning, certain outdoor areas such as bars and restaurants may have additional requirements.  Finally, areas that have been unoccupied for seven days or more will require only normal routine cleaning before reopening.  When reopening spaces that have been closed for extended periods, however, non-COVID-19-related public health concerns also should be considered.
    • What Needs to be Disinfected.  Frequently-touched surfaces and objects, such as light switches, doorknobs and handles, should be disinfected following a normal routine cleaning.  In order to select the appropriate disinfecting product from the list of EPA-approved products, it is important to know the type of material that will need to be cleaned and disinfected (e.g., hard and non-porous versus soft and porous).
    • Necessary Resources and Equipment.  Employers should reference the list of EPA-approved products.  When devising a plan, consideration should be given to the availability of different cleaning and disinfecting products, as well as the availability of appropriate personal protective equipment (“PPE”) needed to use those products. 
  • Implementing and Revising a Plan.Those responsible for implementing a cleaning and disinfecting plan should follow all instructions for appropriate use of products, should wear gloves and any other required PPE, and should ensure there is adequate ventilation.  Cleaning and disinfecting plans should also be maintained after reopening to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.  Such plans may also need to be revised or updated based on new guidance or a change in circumstances.  For example, more frequent cleaning and disinfecting may be needed due to increased use of a given area.  In addition to cleaning and disinfecting, individuals should maintain safe behavioral practices, including social distancing and frequent handwashing. 
  • Additional Resources.  The CDC’s website offers more information about other strategies that can help reduce the spread of COVID-19.  Our memorandum, COVID-19 Response—Return-to-Work Considerations for Employers, also includes considerations for employers as they develop plans to reopen workplaces.
As the COVID-19 situation continues to develop, and federal, state, and local governments issue additional guidance, employers need to be cognizant of new guidance and requirements.  For more information, please visit S&C’s page regarding Coronavirus updates.