OSHA Issues New COVID-19 Guidance For Non-Healthcare Employers
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) recently issued new guidance aimed at assisting non-healthcare employers in managing the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this summer, OSHA released new COVID-19 safety regulations setting forth binding obligations for healthcare institutions specifically. Since then, COVID-19 cases have continued to rise throughout most of the country, and the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) have recommended that all persons wear masks in indoor public spaces in areas with high COVID-19 case rates.
In response, OSHA has released this newest guidance, which does not create any new legal requirements for employers, but aligns OSHA’s guidelines with recent CDC recommendations and advises non-healthcare employers in high and substantial risk areas on containing the spread of the pandemic.
Below is a summary of some of OSHA’s most significant recommendations for non-healthcare employers:
Facilitate Employee Vaccinations. Employers should consider adopting policies that require workers to get vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing – in addition to mask wearing and physical distancing – if they remain unvaccinated. OSHA also recommends that employers grant time off to employees to get vaccinated and recover from the side effects of vaccines, and work with local health authorities to provide vaccinations to unvaccinated workers.
Steps For Individuals Who Have Been Exposed To COVID-19 Infection. According to OSHA’s new guidance, fully-vaccinated employees who have been exposed to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should get tested three to five days after the exposure and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result. Workers who are not fully vaccinated should be tested immediately after they have been identified as potentially exposed, and, if this initial test is negative, should get tested again in five to seven days following exposure, or sooner if they develop COVID-19 symptoms.
Physical Distancing. OSHA recommends that employers continue to require a minimum of six feet of distancing for unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk employees.
Provide Workers With Face Coverings. Except for employees whose work tasks require a respirator or other personal protective equipment, OSHA recommends that all employees wear masks or other face coverings that cover the nose and mouth. Employers are advised to provide such face coverings to workers at no cost.
Education And Training. OSHA’s guidance stresses that every workplace should have a formal, written COVID-19 policy that is communicated to workers in a manner accessible and understandable to them.
Suggest Or Require That Unvaccinated Customers And Visitors Wear Face Coverings. In areas with high infection rates, OSHA urges employers to ask members of the public to wear face coverings while visiting their workplace.
Maintain Ventilation Systems. As OSHA notes, a well-maintained ventilation system is an important control measure to limit the spread of COVID-19. Both the CDC and OSHA have specific guidance available for employers on ventilation in the workplace.
Perform Routine Cleaning Or Disinfection. When someone suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 has been in the workplace within the past 24 hours, OSHA suggests that employers follow the CDC’s cleaning and disinfection recommendations, in addition to any mandatory OSHA standards that may apply.
Record And Report COVID-19-Related Hospitalizations And Deaths. Employers should follow existing OSHA requirements regarding reporting COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths.
Be Mindful Of Anti-Retaliation Protections. Employers should also bear in mind that Section 11(c) of the OSHA statute prohibits reprisal or discrimination against an employee for speaking out about unsafe working conditions or reporting to an employer infection or exposure to COVID-19.
Follow Other Applicable Mandatory OSHA Standards. Finally, OSHA’s guidance reminds employers that all of the agency’s existing standards that apply to protecting workers from infection remain in place.
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Employers in high and substantial COVID-19 risk areas are encouraged to consult OSHA’s full guidance, which can be found on the agency’s website at: https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework#ftn4
OSHA has also made other resources available for employers on its COVID-19 webpage: https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/ets
If you have any questions about OSHA’s new guidance, or any other workplace issues relating to COVID-19, please feel free to reach out to one of our experienced employment lawyers.