The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) recently issued new guidance on how employers should take COVID-19-related precautions in the workplace. According to its January 29, 2021 press release, OSHA considers the new guidance “stronger” and believes it will help employers “better identify risks which could lead to exposure and contraction.” While this guidance does not have the force or effect of law, and “creates no new legal obligations,” it contains more detail than previously provided by OSHA in prior published guidance.
According to the new guidance, “[t]he 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 [sixteen] elements.” Per OSHA, these sixteen features are:
- Assignment of a workplace coordinator responsible for handling COVID-19 issues;
- Identification of where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work, including a thorough hazard assessment;
- Identification of a combination of measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace (e.g., engineering controls, policies on distancing, mask wearing and other measures, provision of personal protective equipment, etc.), 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 COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and language;
- 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;
- Compliance with other applicable OSHA standards (e.g., respiratory protection, sanitation, bloodborne pathogens, general duty clause, etc.).
What this additional guidance means for employers will vary by employer and the particular workplace(s) at issue. Such guidance will likely continue to develop. Nonetheless, it is always best practice to periodically meet with an attorney to review workplace policies and procedures and determine what changes are necessary to bring such policies and practices in line with OSHA guidance to the greatest extent practicable.