Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)


Hazard Overview

Hazard Overview

What is a coronavirus?

A coronavirus is named for the crown-like spikes on its surface that are apparent when the virus is viewed under extreme magnification. Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s. There are four main sub-groupings of human coronaviruses: alpha, beta, gamma and delta. The gamma and delta coronaviruses do not cause known human disease.

The seven coronaviruses that infect humans, and which can be divided into two sets, are:

Common human coronaviruses:

  • HCoV-229E (alpha coronavirus)

  • HCoV-NL63 (alpha coronavirus)

  • HCoV-OC43 (beta coronavirus)

  • HCoV-HKU1 (beta coronavirus)

Some other human coronaviruses include:

  • MERS-CoV (beta coronavirus): causes MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome)2012

  • SARS-CoV (beta coronavirus): causes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome)2003 (China)

  • 2019 nCoV (or SARS-CoV-2): novel coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19

What are the hazards associated with exposure to 2019 nCoV?

Some coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and cause disease in humans. Previous examples include the coronaviruses that cause MERS and SARS. Because 2019 nCoV is a newly discovered virus, much is still being learned about its effects and modes of transmission. Although test kits are available for health departments and other health care facilities to facilitate identifying patients infected by 2019 nCoV, there is currently no vaccine available to prevent the development of the active disease COVID-19 following exposure to the virus.

Workers Who May Have Exposure Risk

Despite the low risk of exposure in most job sectors, some workers in the United States may have exposure to infectious people, including travelers who contracted COVID-19 abroad. Workers with increased exposure risk include those involved in:

  • Healthcare (including pre-hospital and medical transport workers, healthcare providers, clinical laboratory personnel, long-term care workers, dental care providers and support staff).

  • Death care (including coroners, medical examiners and funeral directors).

  • Airline operations

  • Waste management

  • Travel to areas, including parts of China, where the virus is spreading.




What can I do to protect myself and others?

Engineering, Administrative and Work Practice Controls.

  • Follow established work procedures for infection control. 
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid close contact with people that are sick.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough with a tissue or elbow, Throw tissue in trash, do not reuse.
  • Clean and disinfect work areas frequently. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. 
  • Employees who believe they are infected with 2019 nCoV are encouraged to self-quarantine at home to prevent infecting others.

Personal Protective Equipment. Employees in certain higher risk occupational settings are especially encouraged to use respirators that afford the level of protection of an N95 filtering facepiece respirator or better. Where respirator use is required, the employer must implement an effective respiratory protection program including, but not limited to, medical evaluation and fit testing.  In addition, use and properly maintain all provided personal protective equipment for work-related tasks having exposure(s).

What resources are available to assist employers?

More information related to the 2019 novel coronavirus can be found on the A-Z topics pages for hazard communication, personal protective equipment, bloodborne pathogens and respiratory protection. In addition, the NCDOL Library offers free safety and health videos (including ones on COVID-19) and related research assistance on consensus standards (i.e., ANSI, NFPA, NEC). The Education, Training and Technical Assistance Bureau provides free online safety and health training and outreach services (i.e., speakers bureau requests, safety booths) upon request.




Which standards apply?

The OSH Division has adopted the following standards which are, or may be, applicable to occupational exposure to the 2019 novel coronavirus in North Carolina:

General Industry

The Which OSHA Standards Apply webpage can also help identify other standards that may be applicable to this topic.

Learn More

Learn More

Where can I learn more?

If you would like to receive interpretive guidance on this or any other OSH standard or topic, you can submit your questions using the Ask OSH web form, by email to or by calling 919-707-7876.