Centers for Disease Control Updates Guidance on Reopening Buildings

During the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance to keep workers safe. On September 22nd, 2020, the CDC released an update to previous guidance on reopening closed buildings.

Overview of the Update

As the CDC explains, the shutdown of a building can create hazards for returning occupants. Many of the issues are due to the reduction of previous normal water use in the workplace. When water is stagnant in pipes for a prolonged period, hazardous material can begin to form. The previous version of the guidance discussed the potential hazards created by Legionella in water systems. In the new release, the CDC has added information on addressing lead and copper that could be in water systems. Lead and copper contamination can occur in pipes that are not coated to prevent metal leaching into water. Depending on the water system, “prolonged period” could mean weeks or months, or potentially even days of reduced usage.

Examples of ways to reduce lead and copper in drinking water, according to the CDC, include:

  • Testing water for lead;
  • Cleaning sink faucet screens; and
  • Using lead filters properly.

The CDC guidance also includes information on:

  • mold awareness, monitoring, and remediation during and after prolonged building shutdowns;
  • updates to the Legionella guidance for people with weakened immune systems; and
  • recommendations for the use of respiratory protection when flushing out water systems.

In order to keep employees safe, the CDC also recommends that employers have possible hazards examined prior to reopening.

Employer Takeaways

In pipes that are not used for a prolonged time, lead, copper, mold, and Legionella can begin to form. The use of stagnant and infected water can seriously harm individuals, perhaps even leading to death. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s General Duty Clause, employers need to provide workplaces that are free of hazards. Prior to reopening any previously closed businesses, employers should consult with building owners to have the water supply tested. If levels of lead, copper, mold, or Legionella are high, employers need to address the hazards before reopening occurs.

NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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