In a recent interview, the former head of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration indicated his belief that many employers are not taking adequate measures to address the real risks for COVID-19 in the workplace. Dr. David Michaels said that in addition to droplet and surface transmission, the virus may become airborne for extended periods of time. (The CDC updated its guidance in October to address this potential, but the agency maintains that the virus primarily spreads through close contact.) He goes on to recommend that – in addition to masks, social distancing, and other preventative measures – OSHA should require employers to carefully review their ventilation and airflow systems.
Some of the state COVID-19 standards already in place require employers to review and upgrade HVAC systems where feasible. A more aggressive approach, such as that suggested by Dr. Michaels, could include other measures such as advanced filtration, installation of blowers, or even new ductwork in parts of a workplace that suffer from poor ventilation.
Obviously, regulations requiring major HVAC changes could entail significant costs for employers. If all U.S. employers are simultaneously required to review and upgrade their ventilation systems, finding available contractors may be difficult. These potential changes remain speculative at this point, but employers should closely monitor developing COVID-19 safety requirements.