Safety & Health

Safety Management

Assessing Worker Risk of COVID-19 Exposure with OSHA's Risk Levels

Grainger Editorial Staff

It's important for employers to understand the risk of occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the workplace, and to implement controls to reduce exposure risk. To help employers understand the exposure risk of their workforce, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued guidance explaining how to categorize jobs and tasks based on an exposure risk pyramid. The OHSA model includes four levels: lower risk, medium risk, high risk and very high risk. 

Lower Risk (Caution): 

  • Workers in lower-risk roles have limited contact with the public and coworkers.
  • Examples include employees who are working from home as well as office, manufacturing or industrial workers who don't have frequent close contact (within six feet) with customers, coworkers or the public. This category also includes healthcare workers who only provide telemedicine services and long-distance truck drivers.

Medium Risk:

  • Workers in medium-risk roles have frequent or contact with people who may be infected but who are not known to have or suspected of having COVID-19. For example, this category would include employees who may have frequent contact with travelers returning from international locations where COVID-19 is widespread, as well as work-related contact with the general public.
  • Schools, densely populated work environments and high-volume retail locations fall within this category.

High Risk:

  • Workers in high-risk roles have a high potential for exposure to people who are known to have or suspected of having COVID-19.
  • This category includes healthcare workers and support staff who work with known or suspected COVID-19 patients, medical transport workers moving known or suspected COVID-19 patients in enclosed vehicles and mortuary workers involved in preparing bodies for burial or cremation of people known to have, or suspected of having, COVID-19 at the time of death.

Very High Risk:

  • Workers in these roles roles have a very high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19 during specific medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures. Workers in this category include healthcare workers performing aerosol-generating procedures on known or suspected COVID-19 patients, healthcare or laboratory personnel collecting or handling specimens from known or suspected COVID-19 patients, and morgue workers performing autopsies, which generally involve aerosol-generating procedures, on the bodies of people who are known to have or are suspected of having COVID-19 at the time of death.

It's important to recognize that throughout the work day, duties and tasks may change, and workers may move from one exposure risk level to another.

Hazard and Risk Assessment

Employers should perform thorough hazard and risk assessments to identify if and when their workers may face an increased risk of exposure to any and all workplace hazards, including infectious communicable diseases such as COVID-19. Appropriate control measures for COVID-19 exposure including engineering controls,  administrative controls and safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) can then be put in place.

Exposure Beyond the Workplace

Occupational exposure is not the only factor that determines employees' risk of getting COVID-19. Conditions in the communities in which employees live and work also play a role in determining their exposure risk, and activities outside work (such as travel) can put employees at risk as well.

Some people have a higher risk of developing serious illness if they contract COVID-19. People who are older than 65 or who have certain health conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, liver disease, obesity or diabetes, may be more likely to have serious illness related to COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Learn more about OSHA's guidance on recording COVID-19 cases on OSHA 300 injury and illness logs here.


OSHA COVID-19 Hazard Recognition

OSHA COVID-19 Control and Prevention

CDC People Who Are at Risk for Severe Illness

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

Featured Resources

More Safety & Health KnowHow



Get more great content like this sent to your inbox.