The United States Department of Labor (USDOL), through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has issued revised safety guidance about COVID-19.
OSHA’s “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace” provides updated guidance and recommendations, and outlines existing safety and health standards. OSHA is providing the recommendations to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace. The guidance details key measures for limiting coronavirus’s spread, including:
- Ensuring infected or potentially infected people are not in the workplace;
- Implementing and following physical distancing protocols; and
- Using surgical masks or cloth face coverings.
It also provides guidance on use of personal protective equipment, improving ventilation, good hygiene and routine cleaning.
Guidance on COVID Safety
The guidance recommends several essential elements in a prevention program:
- Conduct a hazard assessment.
- Identify control measures to limit the spread of the virus.
- Adopt policies for employee absences that don’t punish workers as a way to encourage potentially infected workers to remain home.
- Ensure that coronavirus policies and procedures are communicated to both English and non-English speaking workers.
Guidance on Vaccinations
The new guidance stresses many of the same safety measures previously advocated by OSHA and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It does, however, provide OSHA’s opinion on vaccination best practices. Here are some of OSHA’s suggestions:
- Make a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees.
- Provide information and training on the benefits and safety of vaccinations.
- Do not distinguish between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not.
- Workers who are vaccinated must continue to follow protective measures, such as wearing a face covering, avoid close contact and remaining physically distant, because at this time, there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines prevent transmission of the virus from person-to-person.
The Guidance is Not Law
OSHA’s new guidance is not a legal standard or regulation. A USDOL press release clearly states that the guidance “creates no new legal obligations” but “contains recommendations as well as descriptions of existing mandatory safety and health standards. The recommendations are advisory in nature, informational in content and are intended to assist employers in recognizing and abating hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm as part of their obligation to provide a safe and healthful workplace.”
Although the updated OSHA guidance is not law, it is a helpful resource that provides important safety information to share with your employees. Because COVID continues to evolve, OSHA has promised to update its guidance as developments in science, best practices and standards warrant.
As always, please let me know if I can help.
Kenneth Winkler, a shareholder at Berman Fink Van Horn, helps employers navigate the employment laws and regulations that govern the workplace.