OSHA Issues COVID-19 Guidance in Response to Presidential Executive Order

This blog has been contributed by ePlace Solutions, a partner of StaffScapes.

In response to President Biden’s Executive Order issued on January 21, 2021 regarding worker safety, OSHA issued updated COVID-19 guidance, “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.”

The guidance is not mandatory at this point but is likely to serve as framework for emergency temporary standards expected to be issued by March 15, 2021.

OSHA’s updated guidance recommends employers implement a COVID-19 Prevention Program. Many employers are probably already taking some of the recommended steps in the Prevention Program to protect their workforce. For example, employers should have identified their potential workplace hazards that increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission (e.g., lobby/waiting area open to the public with close seating, shared equipment, and one break time for all employees); identified mitigation measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace (e.g., social distancing, installing physical barriers, one-way traffic patterns, staggered breaks, and routine cleaning and disinfection); and implemented basic education and training for employees on the risk of COVID-19, facts regarding its transmission, good hand hygiene, workplace policies for mitigating spread, and related matters.

A few notable additions to the recommended guidance include:

  • Provide all workers with face coverings (i.e., cloth face coverings, surgical masks), unless their work task requires a respirator. Many states did/do not require this, and OSHA did not previously recommend employers provide masks.
  • Offer a COVID-19 vaccine at no cost to eligible employees.
  • Do not distinguish between vaccinated workers and those who are not vaccinated for purposes of implementing safety measures. Even vaccinated workers need to continue protective measures, such as wearing a mask and social distancing. As OSHA notes, “at this time there is not evidence that COVID-19 vaccines prevent transmission of the virus from person-to-person.”
  • Minimize the impact that quarantine has on employees by permitting telework if possible and providing paid sick leave. Employers with less than 500 employees are encouraged to voluntarily continue leave under the FFCRA, for which tax credits are available through March 31, 2021.
  • Provide state and local guidance on screening and testing.
  • Assign a workplace coordinator who is responsible for handling COVID-19 issues.

Many states, particularly those with a state-OSHA agency (e.g., Cal/OSHA), have implemented emergency regulations to address COVID-419 workplace hazards, raging from reporting requirements to comprehensive standards that require a written plan, employee training, various infection-control methods, and other measures. Employer obligations in these states have not changed as a result of what has been issued by OSHA.

All employers, but certainly those in states who have passed mandatory workplace safety standards, are encouraged to review OSHA’s “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace” and begin implementing as many of the protocols as feasible. Those who do will not only be ahead of the game when OSHA issues its expected emergency temporary standards, but they will also make their workers and workplace safer.

For more information on creating a COVID-19/infectious disease response plan, StaffScapes invites you to read our blog on this topic.