The Occupational Safety and Health Administration last week issued stronger worker safety guidance to help employers and workers implement coronavirus prevention programs and better identify risks that could lead to exposure and contraction. President Biden had previously directed OSHA to release clear guidance for employers to help keep workers safe from Covid-19 exposure.
“Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of Covid-19 in the Workplace” provides updated guidance and recommendations, and outlines existing safety and health standards.
According to an article by Husch Blackwell attorneys Donna Pryor and Leah Kaiser, the guidance creates no new legal obligations. However, in its General Duty Clause, the Occupational Safety and Health Act “requires employers to provide their workers with a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm,” suggesting the recommendations could be enforced via the General Duty Clause, they wrote.
According to the article, OSHA is considering implementing other measures to mitigate and prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace, and in response to a question about the difference between this and past guidance, an OSHA representative during a stakeholder call said the main differences are in “tone” and the suggestion that employers involve workers in developing a plan.
The most effective Covid-19 prevention programs engage workers and their representatives in the program’s development and implementation at every step, and include the following elements:
- Assignment of a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for Covid-19 issues on the employer’s behalf.
- Identification of where and how workers might be exposed to Covid-19 at work.
- 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.
- Consideration of protections for workers at higher risk for severe illness through supportive policies and practices.
- Establishment of a system for communicating effectively with workers and in a language they understand.
- Educate and train workers on your Covid-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in a language they understand. Instruct workers who are infected or potentially infected to stay home and isolate or quarantine.
- Minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on workers.
- Isolating workers who show symptoms at work.
- Performing enhanced cleaning and disinfection after people with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 have been in the facility.
- Providing guidance on screening and testing.
- Recording and reporting Covid-19 infections and deaths.
- Implementing protections from retaliation and setting up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about Covid-19-related hazards.
- Making a Covid-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees.
- Not distinguishing between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not.
- Other applicable OSHA standards: All of OSHA’s standards that apply to protecting workers from infection remain in place.
“OSHA is updating its guidance to reduce the risk of transmission of the coronavirus and improve worker protections so businesses can operate safely and employees can stay safe and working,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick.
The agency’s guidance will be updated as developments in science, best practices and standards warrant.