The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) requires employers to provide a workplace free of hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. But what does that mean in the COVID-19 context?
That’s what OSHA sought to clarify earlier this year. On January 29, 2021, OSHA issued Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace, new guidance in response to President Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety. The goal of the guidance is to help employers identify potential risks of exposure to COVID-19 and to suggest control measures for controlling the spread of the disease.
Although the guidance isn’t a law or regulation, it sets forth a slew of best practices that will be helpful as employers welcome employees back to the office. Here’s a summary of what the guidance recommends.
- Assign a workplace coordinator to manage COVID-19 issues in the workplace.
- Conduct a hazard assessment to identify potential sources of coronavirus exposure.
- Identify measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19, including cleaning supplies, robust policies, personal protective equipment, physical distancing, face coverings, barriers, engineering controls, improved ventilation, routine cleaning, and other measures.
- Consider reasonable accommodations for employees who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, including older workers and those suffering from serious underlying medical conditions.
- Create open lines of communication where employees feel comfortable sharing information about potential COVID-19 symptoms, exposures, and hazards. Employees should understand that they have the ability to raise workplace and safety concerns without fear of retaliation.
- Make policies clear and easy to understand, and train employees on COVID-19 policies and procedures. The training should cover basic facts about COVID-19 and the importance of taking measures to reduce employee risk and the employer’s COVID-19 prevention program and policies.
- Tell exposed or infected employees to stay home from work and quarantine to reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus.
- Give isolated or quarantined workers options for how they can continue working, whether telework or otherwise. Consider implementing paid leave policies to reduce risk.
- Send home employees who show coronavirus symptoms in the workplace.
- Follow enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols, particularly after a suspected exposure.
- Offer employees guidance on COVID-19 screening and testing. You may be able to arrange COVID-19 testing with your occupational health provider or local or state health department.
- Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths as required by OSHA regulations on your Form 300 log.
- Set up a process for employees to report concerns about COVID-19 hazards in the workplace, such as failure to comply with employer policies, and ensure anti-retaliation measures are in place.
- Offer a COVID-19 vaccine to employees at no cost.
- Avoid treating vaccinated employees differently from those who are vaccinated, because there is no evidence that vaccination prevents the transmission of COVID-19.
The guidance also provides additional details on steps that employers can take to limit the spread of coronavirus through physical distancing, face coverings, ventilation, and other precautions.
Employers should understand and implement this guidance to improve their chances of maintaining a safe and healthy work environment.