February 4, 2021
At the request of President Biden, OSHA has issued revised worker safety guidance to advise employers on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19. The recommendations are advisory only and intended to assist employers in maintaining a safe workplace.
The OSHA guidelines state that implementing a workplace COVID-10 prevention program is the most effective way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at work. The prevention program should include the following elements:
- Assignment of a workplace coordinator who is responsible for COVID-19 issues on behalf of the employer.
- Identification of where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-10 at work. This element should include a hazard assessment and involve workers in the assessment.
- Identification of a combination of measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, in line with the principles of the hierarchy of controls.
- Send home infected or potentially infected individuals;
- Physical distancing– this could include remote work, flexible worksites and hours, and using signs to remind people to maintain 6 feet of distance;
- Installing barriers where physical distancing cannot be maintained – if used, barriers should block face-to-face pathways between individuals;
- Face coverings – employers must discuss reasonable accommodations for employees with a disability that prevents them from being able to wear a face covering;
- Ventilation – increase ventilation rates and open windows and doors where possible;
- PPE – if the above measures do not work, employers must provide PPE to supplement these controls;
- Good hygiene practices – allow supplies and time for employees to properly and frequently wash hands; and
- Routine cleaning and disinfecting – follow the CDC’s cleaning and disinfecting guidance.
- Consideration of protections for workers at higher risk for severe illness through supportive policies and practices. Employers should consider reasonable modifications for workers identified as high-risk who can do some or all their work at home, or in less densely occupied, better-ventilated alternate facilities or offices.
- Establishment of a system for communicating effectively with workers and in a language they understand. Ask workers to report COVID-19 symptoms, possible COVID-19 exposures, and possible COVID-19 hazards at the workplace.
- Educate and train workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in a language they understand. Communications should include (1) basic facts about COVID-19, including how it is spread and the importance of physical distancing, use of face coverings, and hand hygiene; (2) workplace policies and procedures implemented to protect workers from COVID-19 hazards; and (3) a means of tracking which workers have been informed and when. Be sure that supervisors are familiar with workplace flexibilities and other human resources policies.
- Instruct workers who are infected or potentially infected to stay home and isolate or quarantine. Be sure that absence policies are not punitive.
- Minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation of workers. OSHA recommends allowing workers to work remotely, use paid sick leave or work in an isolated area.
- Isolating workers who show symptoms at work. Immediately separate from other workers, send home, and encourage the worker to seek medical attention.
- Performing enhanced cleaning and disinfection after people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 have been in the workplace. OSHA recommends following the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations.
- Providing guidance on screening and testing. Follow state or local guidance and priorities for screening and viral testing in workplaces.
- Recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths. Employers are responsible for recording work-related cases of COVID-19 on their Form 300 logs if it is a confirmed case of COVID-19, it is work-related, and it involves one or more relevant recording criteria (e.g., medical treatment, days away from work). Employers should also report outbreaks to health departments and support the health department’s contact tracing efforts.
- Implementing protections from retaliation and setting up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards. Be sure that workers know whom to contact with questions or concerns and that there are prohibitions against retaliation for raising workplace safety and health concerns. OSHA also recommends using a hotline or other method for workers to voice concerns anonymously.
- Making a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all employees.
- Not distinguishing between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not. Workers who are vaccinated must continue to follow protective measures because, at this time, there is no evidence that the vaccine will prevent transmission of the virus.
OSHA plans to update this guidance over time to reflect developments in science, best practices, and standards. Stall Legal will keep you updated as the guidance is updated.