On January 14, 2021, President Biden announced a $1.9 trillion plan to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of this plan included an executive order requiring OSHA to issue updated guidance to employers on COVID-19. As required by this executive order, OSHA recently published its latest guidance “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.”
The new guidance is the first part of a two-step plan. The second step encourages OSHA to issue an emergency temporary coronavirus protection standard, as the current guidelines are not an enforceable standard. OSHA has been directed to consider whether an emergency temporary standard is necessary and, if so, to issue a standard by March 15, 2021.
OSHA COVID-19 Guidance
In its guidance, OSHA outlines elements of a COVID-19 program which it states is “the most effective way” to mitigate COVID-19 exposures in the workplace. OSHA recommends that a COVID-19 program include:
- Designation of a workplace coordinator assigned to implement the COVID-19 program.
- Identification of where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work.
- Institution of COVID-19 controls in the workplace to control its spread, such as ventilation, face coverings, physical distancing, installation of barriers and hygiene practices.
- 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 the employer’s 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 to prevent or reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
- Minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on workers.
- Isolate workers who show symptoms at work.
- Perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection after people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 have been in the facility.
- Provide guidance on screening and testing.
- Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths.
- Implement protections from retaliation and set up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards.
- Make a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees.
- Avoid distinguishing between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not.
OSHA COVID-19 Vaccine Guidance
Employers already implementing a COVID-19 mitigation program in their workplace are already familiar with much of this guidance. However, the guidance regarding vaccines is new.
OSHA recommends employers make vaccinations available at no cost and provide training on the “benefits and safety of vaccinations.” It also advises that employees who have been vaccinated “must continue to follow protective measures.” Employers looking to implement a vaccination program should review the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance on vaccinations.
Additional COVID-19 Guidance
OSHA also provides specific guidance for a number of industries, including manufacturing, construction, warehousing and package handling, emergency response, and oil and gas operations.
Although this is a guidance document, OSHA mentions other standards which could be enforced, such as PPE requirements, respiratory protection, sanitation, requirements for employee access to medical and exposure records, protection from blood-borne pathogens, and the General Duty Clause. For example, an inspector may rely on the hazards identified in the guidance as support for the “recognize hazard” requirement of a General Duty Clause violation.
Employers should review and comply with the guidance document on the OSHA website to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on their workforce and meet their regulatory obligations. OSHA has stated that they will be updating this guidance periodically, so check it regularly.
Get COVID-19 Guidance Support
Tetra Tech has a team of health and safety, indoor air quality and public health professionals as well as epidemiologists and ventilation engineers who can provide cost effective solutions for clients implementing COVID-19 mitigation programs. Tetra Tech experts can provide a variety of services:
- Program audits
- Compliance program development
- Contact tracing programs
- Ventilation system evaluation
- Training program development and presentation
- Surface sampling to evaluate cleaning and disinfection
Contact us today at [email protected] if you have any question on how we can support your health and safety program goals.