On January 29, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released worker safety guidance titled “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.” The guidance provides updated safety and health standards incorporated from existing guidance from the CDC.
According to the newly released guidance, some of the key elements outlined emphasize using a COVID-19 prevention program as the “most effective way to slow the spread of the virus.” To quote from OSHA guidance, these elements include:
- Assigning a workplace coordinator, acting on behalf of the employer who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues.
- Identifying where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work. OSHA recommends a hazard assessment to identify these potential risks.
- Identifying measures to implement that will limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, in line with the principles of the hierarchy of controls, including:
- Implementing barriers and physical distancing.
- Providing employees with face coverings (at no cost).
- Improving ventilation and building operations.
- Requiring employers to provide PPE if the three measures mentioned above do not fully protect workers or cannot be put into practice.
- Ensuring employees have supplies to practice good hygiene.
- Performing routine cleaning and disinfection of the workplace.
- Considering greater protection for workers at higher risk for severe illness through supportive policies and practices.
- Establishing an effective communication system with workers (in a language they understand).
- Educating and training workers on COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats.
- Instruct workers who are infected or potentially infected to self-isolate or quarantine at home to prevent or reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
- Minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on workers.
- Isolating workers who show COVID-19 symptoms at work.
- Performing enhanced cleaning and disinfection of workplace after people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 have visited.
- Providing guidance on screening and testing.
- Recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths.
- Implementing protection from retaliation and setting up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards.
The guidelines serve as a refresher from prior CDC guidance; however, one new issue that is touched on is vaccinations. While OSHA does not mandate vaccinations for employees, they recommend employers provide vaccinations at no cost and provide employee training on the benefits and safety of vaccinations. Employers seeking to execute a vaccination program should review the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance on vaccinations.
New legal obligations relating to COVID-19 could likely be forthcoming from OSHA; in fact, OSHA has noted that it will update its guidance “to reflect developments in science, best practices, and standards.” Employers should continue to track the OSHA website for updates regarding best practices and standards.