OSHA RELEASES NEW GUIDANCE ON WORKPLACE CORONAVIRUS PROTECTION
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released updated guidance with recommended steps for preventing the exposure and spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
The new guidance, “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace,” which was released on January 29, 2021, emphasizes mask-wearing and the importance of implementing coronavirus prevention programs in the workplace.
Workplace COVID-19 Prevention Program
The guidance outlines 16 elements that should be part of an employer’s coronavirus prevention programs and says employees should play a significant role. Employees should provide input and be involved in all stages of developing and implementing workplace coronavirus prevention plans.
Some of the key prevention program elements are:
- Identify a COVID-19 coordinator for your workplace who will be the point person for all COVID-19 issues.
- Conduct a hazard assessment. This means looking at your workplace specifically and identifying how and where employees are most likely to be exposed.
- Establish a 2-way communication system for COVID-19. This includes how you will communicate COVID-19 policies and information to employees, as well as how employees can communicate with their employer about possible exposure and illness.
- Educate employees about screening and testing. Share public health guidance about who needs to be tested and the best options for getting testing. You may want to explore a dedicated testing solution for your employees through your health insurance provider or having test kits available at worksites.
- Ensure your policies do not punish employees for coronavirus-related absences. To prevent sick employees from coming into the office, consider providing paid sick leave or allowing temporary work from home. Employers with fewer than 500 employees are encouraged to continue providing FFCRA paid leave. Though it is no longer mandatory, employers who offer it will be reimbursed through March 31, 2021.
- Do not distinguish between those who are vaccinated and those who are not. All employees should follow workplace safety guidelines, no matter their vaccination status.
- Make a COVID-19 vaccine available at no cost to eligible employees.
Recording and Reporting
OSHA previously released guidance for employers on recording and reporting workplace COVID-19 cases, and the new guidance reinforces these requirements. Employers are required to record all work-related cases of COVID-19 in their Form 300 logs. Recording is an internal employer process. The logs are not shared with OSHA but must be posted in the worksite annually from February through April.
Employers must report hospitalizations and fatalities resulting from work-related coronavirus cases directly to OSHA. Hospitalizations must be reported to OSHA if the employee is hospitalized within 24 hours of being exposed at work, and fatalities must be reported if the employee dies within 30 days of exposure at work.
The new guidance is more forceful in its recommendation that employers require all employees to wear masks, as well as all customers and visitors to the workplace. The new guidance also recommends that employers purchase masks for their employees, which had not previously been included in any guidance from OSHA.
Employers should note that these guidelines from OSHA are recommendations only and not mandatory OSHA standards. However, OSHA does require employers to protect their employees from recognized hazards, and we know COVID-19 is a recognized hazard. For this reason, we recommend employers review the prevention program elements described in this new guidance and implement as much as is feasible.
OSHA may release additional guidance as well as new mandatory standards under the Biden administration, and the Anthros team will continue to monitor and communicate these changes to clients.