Responding to a directive from the Biden administration, OSHA posted new guidance on January 29, 2021 to help non-healthcare employers identify COVID-19 risks and implement effective measures to minimize its spread in the workplace. The guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. It is advisory in nature, containing recommendations and detailed descriptions of existing safety and health regulations. However, it will likely be one yardstick used to measure compliance with OSHA’s “General Duty Clause,” which requires employers to provide workers with a workplace free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious harm.
The new guidance specifies that implementing a workplace COVID-19 prevention program is the most effective way to reduce its spread at work. An effective program includes such elements as:
- Assigning a workplace coordinator responsible for COVID-19 issues.
- Identifying where and how employees might be exposed at work.
- Identifying a combination of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 at work including separating and sending home potentially infected employees, implementing physical distancing and barriers, requiring face coverings, improving ventilation, and using applicable PPE, as well as good hygiene and cleaning/disinfection practices.
- Providing reasonable accommodations or modifications to workers at higher risk of severe illness.
- Effectively communicating with employees about COVID-19 in a language they understand and providing them with guidance on screening and testing.
- Educating and training employees on COVID-19 policies and procedures.
- Minimizing the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on workers by allowing telework or work at alternative locations where possible.
- Recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths consistent with applicable OSHA requirements. See Lake Effect’s blogs on this issue.
- Establishing a process for employees to anonymously express concerns about COVID-19 hazards and ensuring that they are not discriminated or retaliated against in any way.
- Making COVID-19 vaccines available to employees and requiring all employees to follow preventive practices, regardless of whether they are vaccinated. See Lake Effect’s blog on this issue.
This is not an exhaustive list of OSHA’s new recommendations, and this new guidance contains detailed information about each aspect of an effective workplace COVID-19 prevention program. Employers should work closely with legal counsel to understand all requirements and implement a COVID-19 workplace prevention program consistent with this new OSHA guidance. Lake Effect is here to help you through this process and ensure that you are taking all possible steps to provide a workplace free from the recognized hazards created by the COVID-19.