On the heels of President Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety directing the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) to issue “science-based guidance” to protect workers from COVID-19 exposure, the agency announced its updated guidance entitled Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace (the “Guidance”). Along with providing information for employees on protecting against COIVD-19 infection, the Guidance provides additional details on key measures employers should take to limit the spread of the virus in the workplace.
Implementation of a COVID-19 protection program. Although most employers have already implemented safety protocols in response to prior CDC guidance on reopening the workplace, the new Guidance provides greater details on recommended COVID-19 prevention programs which should include the following elements:
- Assignment of a workplace coordinator responsible for COVID-19 issues on the employer’s behalf.
- A thorough hazard assessment to identify potential workplace hazards related to COVID-19.
- Identification of a combination of measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, including:
- sending home infected or potentially infected people from the workplace;
- implementing physical distancing in all communal work areas;
- installing barriers where physical distancing cannot be maintained;
- use of face coverings and applicable PPE to protect workers form exposure;
- improving ventilation;
- providing the supplies necessary for good hygiene practices; and
- performing routine cleaning and disinfection.
- Consideration of reasonable accommodations for workers at higher risk for severe illness, such as remote working and working in less densely-occupied, better-ventilated alternate facilities or offices.
- Establishment of a system for training and communicating effectively with workers in a language they understand about procedures implemented for responding to sick and exposed workers.
- Instruction to workers infected or potentially infected to stay home and isolate or quarantine.
- Minimizing the negative impact of quarantine on workers by permitting telework or working in isolated areas when possible, or implementing paid leave policies to minimize the risk of exposure.
- Performing enhanced cleaning and disinfection after people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 have been in the facility.
- Providing guidance to employees 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.
- Consider making a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees.
- Ensuring that workers who are vaccinated continue to follow protective measures.
Engagement of workers in plan implementation. The Guidance stressed that the most effective COVID-19 prevention programs engage workers and their representatives at every step in the program’s development and implementation.
Employer Actions. Employers should review the additional details on these key measures provided in the Guidance, which can be found at https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework. Employers who have not done so should establish COVID-19 safety programs consistent with the CDC’s recommendations. Those who have already implemented plans should review them to ensure they are consistent with the expanded new recommendations from the CDC. A failure to do so could open employers up to claims that the employer failed to take reasonable measures, as recommended by the CDC, to fulfill their legal obligation under OSHA to provide employees with a healthy and safe work environment.