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Massachusetts Issues Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards

The Massachusetts economy has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 23, 2020, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker ordered the mandatory shutdown of non-essential businesses, curtailed essential business operations, restricted the size of gatherings, and advised citizens to stay at home. Finally, some relief is in sight.

On May 12, 2020, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) issued “Reopening: Mandatory Safety Standards for Workplaces” which outlines new safety requirements for business reopening. Earlier this week, Governor Baker announced a four-phase approach to reopening the Commonwealth that will methodically permit certain businesses, services, and activities to resume based on public health metrics A link to the four-phase plan is here.

In Phase 1, “Start,” limited industries will resume operations but with severe restrictions. Businesses deemed “essential” have remained open, with certain restrictions, since the March 23 shutdown order and will continue to be open. Phases 2, 3, and 4 are “Cautious,” “Vigilant,” and “New Normal.” In Phase 2, additional industries will resume operations with restrictions and capacity limits; in Phase 3, additional industries will resume operations with guidance; and in Phase 4, the development of a vaccine and/or therapy enables resumption of a “New Normal.” It has not yet been announced which industries, businesses, and services are covered by the various phases. If public health metrics fall below certain thresholds, movement back to a prior phase may be required.

The new standards were created by DPH and the COVID-19 Command Center in consultation with the Reopening Advisory Board and are designed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission to employees and customers during the first phase of reopening. The Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards, outlined below, are applicable to all sectors and industries that will be open in Phase 1 and create new requirements for social distancing, hygiene, staffing and operations and cleaning.

The standards were released ahead of Phase 1 to give employers time to plan and prepare for reopening. The Reopening Advisory Board is also developing Sector-Specific Safety Standards and Best Practices that will detail how particular industries should operate upon reopening, as well as provide for limited exceptions to the mandatory standards.

Social Distancing

  • All persons, including employees, customers, and vendors should remain at least six feet apart to the greatest extent possible, both inside and outside workplaces
  • Establish protocols to ensure that employees can practice adequate social distancing
  • Provide signage for safe social distancing
  • Require face coverings or masks for all employees

Hygiene Protocols

  • Provide hand washing capabilities throughout the workplace
  • Ensure frequent handwashing by employees and adequate supplies to do so
  • Provide regular sanitization of high touch areas, such as workstations, equipment, screens, doorknobs, and restrooms throughout the worksite

Staffing and Operations

  • Provide training for employees regarding social distancing and hygiene protocols
  • Employees who are displaying COVID-19 like symptoms do not report to work
  • Establish a plan for employees getting ill from COVID-19 at work and a return-to-work plan

Cleaning and Disinfecting

  • Establish and maintain cleaning protocols specific to the business
  • When an active employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, cleaning and disinfecting must be performed
  • Disinfection of all common surfaces must take place at intervals appropriate to said workplace
  • Businesses that are currently closed in Massachusetts should be prepared to meet these standards upon reopening. Essential businesses that are already open should ensure that they are meeting these standards now


As businesses in Massachusetts and elsewhere begin to carefully re-open it will be necessary to pay close attention to guidance from the CDC and state authorities.


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