During his first few days in office, President Joe Biden asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to release updated guidance for employers to keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure. OSHA followed the request by issuing the press release “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.”
According to the release, the agency is requesting “stronger safety guidance to help employers and workers implement a coronavirus protection program and better identify risks which could lead to exposure.”
The updated recommendations detail multiple steps employers should take to ensure a safe workplace. Many of the recommendations are already being used by employers, though the release has a renewed focus on prevention.
OSHA lists 15 points that employer plans should include:
1. Assignment of a workplace coordinator;
2. Identification of where workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work;
3. Identification of a multiple measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace;
4. Consideration of protections for workers at higher risk for illness;
5. Establishment of a system for communicating effectively with workers;
6. Educate and train workers on COVID-19 policies using available formats and in a language they understand;
7. Instruct workers who are infected or potentially infected to stay home and quarantine;
8. Minimize the negative impact of quarantine on workers;
9. Isolating workers who show symptoms;
10. Performing enhanced cleaning and disinfection after people with suspected COVID-19 have been in the office;
11. Providing guidance on screening and testing;
12. Reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths;
13. Implement protections from retaliation and setting up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about hazards;
14. Making a COVID-19 vaccine available at no cost to eligible employees;
15. Not distinguishing between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not.
At the moment, OSHA does not have specific COVID-19 regulations, though it requires employers to provide a workplace free from any hazards. OSHA’s guidance is an indication of the actions the agency believes are “feasible.”
It’s believed a number of these provisions will be part of the final OSHA regulations to be announced in March.
It’s a good idea for employers to evaluate their present compliance with these newly released guidelines.