TUMWATER – Concern over COVID-19 cases in hospital workers has prompted the Washington State Departments of Labor & Industries (L&I) and Health (DOH) to clarify and update hospital guidance to prevent the spread of the virus to staff and patients.

The state Hazard Alert issued today highlights key worker safety and health requirements and guidance on employee training, proper use of respirators and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), social distancing, disinfecting procedures, and the importance of a comprehensive infection control program. The alert aligns hospital requirements with the most current information about transmitting the virus.

“Health care workers are on the front lines of the pandemic caring for others. This Hazard Alert spells out what hospitals must do to take care of all of their workers to prevent them from getting infected on the job,” said Anne Soiza, L&I assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH).

“Employee safety and patient safety are equally important,” Soiza added.

The alert covers several key areas including training on COVID-19 procedures and infection control.

Among the requirements, hospitals must:

  • Replace disposable respirators and procedural masks daily at the beginning of each shift and immediately upon employee request when soiled or damaged during the shift. Multiple shift use of disposable respirators/masks is not allowed.
  • Train and ensure sick employees do not report to work and immediately leave work when they become symptomatic.
  • Ensure facilities are adequately staffed with qualified infection prevention staff and resources.
  • Provide adequate space and procedures for employees to physically distance at a minimum of six feet in break rooms, nurse stations, cafeteria and other spaces where they congregate.
  • Maintain hospital-wide policies and procedures consistent with state and national guidelines as they evolve for COVID-19.

L&I is working closely with the state Department of Health (DOH) on this issue. DOH supports local health agencies as they respond to COVID-19 cases and outbreaks, including those at hospitals, and conducts oversight of hospitals under state licensing laws.

DOH is coordinating with local health agencies and the Washington State Hospital Association on opportunities to provide hospitals with the education and support necessary to keep health care employees and patients safe from COVID-19 and other infections.

Guidance for specific industries

Along with the guidance for health care and long-term care workers, guidance for other industries is available on the L&I DOSH coronavirus webpage.

The state coronavirus webpage has links to important information and guidance related to the pandemic from numerous state agencies.