COVID-19 OSHA Regulation Updates

April 30, 2021

COVID-19 has brought around countless changes to the traditional workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) regularly issued new guidelines throughout 2020 and into the start of 2021 aimed at mitigating the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace. On January 29, 2021, OSHA issued a comprehensive executive summary of COVID-19 precautions employers should take. This article highlights some of the key points employees and employers should be aware of.

What Workers Need To Know about COVID-19 Protections in the Workplace

  1. The best way to protect yourself is to remain socially distant so that you are not breathing in particles produced by an infected person – generally at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths).  However, 6 feet is not a guarantee especially in enclosed spaces or those with poor ventilation.
  2. Practice good personal hygiene and wash your hands often. Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow and do not spit. Monitor your health daily and be alert for COVID-19 symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19).
  3. Face coverings are simple barriers to help prevent your respiratory droplets or aerosols from reaching others. Not all face coverings are the same; the CDC recommends that face coverings be made of at least two layers of a tightly woven breathable fabric, such as cotton, and should not have exhalation valves or vents.
  4. The main function of wearing a face covering is to protect those around you, in case you are infected but not showing symptoms. Studies show that face coverings reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth.
  5. Although not their primary value, studies also show that face coverings can reduce wearers' risk of infection in certain circumstances, depending upon the face covering.
  6. You should wear a face covering even if you do not feel sick. This is because people with COVID-19 who never develop symptoms (asymptomatic) and those who are not yet showing symptoms (pre-symptomatic) can still spread the virus to other people.
  7. It is especially important to wear a face covering when you are unable to stay at least 6 feet apart from others since COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact with one another. But wearing a face covering does not eliminate the need for physical distancing or other control measures (e.g., handwashing).
  8. Many employers have established COVID-19 prevention programs that include a number of important steps to keep workers safe – including steps from telework to flexible schedules to personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings. Ask your employer about plans in your workplace.

The Roles of Employers and Workers in Responding to COVID-19

Under OSHA, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.  Implementing a workplace COVID-19 prevention program is the most effective way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at work.  The most effective COVID-19 prevention programs engage workers and their representatives in the program's development and implementation at every step, and include the following elements:

  1. Assigning a workplace coordinate who is responsible for COVID-19 issues on behalf of the employer.
  2. Identifying where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work.  Employers should conduct a thorough hazard assessment based on the workplace setup and usual operations.
  3. Creating measure that will limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, such as implementing a stringent policy for employees that are sick or demonstrating COVID-19 symptoms, implementing physical distancing, installing barriers where possible, improving ventilation, improving ventilation, providing supplies to allow for good hygiene practices, and regular cleaning and sanitizing.
  4. Implement policies that protect workers at higher risk for severe illness, such as elderly employees or employees with compromised immune systems.
  5. Establish a system for employees and employers to effectively communicate regarding COVID-19 policies, protections, and potential outbreaks.
  6. Educate and train all workers on the COVID-19 policies and best practices.
  7. Instruct workers that are potentially infected to stay home and isolate or quarantine to avoid spreading COVID-19 throughout the workplace.
  8. Provide guidance to employees on screening and testing of COVID-19.
  9. Recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths.  COVID-19 incidents must be reported on OSHA Form 300 logs if the following apply:
  10. A confirmed case of COVID-19;
  11. The case is work related; and
  12. The case involves one or more relevant criteria such as medical treatment required, employee was away from work for a period of time – see 29 CFR 1904.7 for more detail.
  13. Ensure employees do not face retaliation from management or other workers for voicing concerns about COVID-19 related hazards.  Ideally, there will be an anonymous reporting system in place.
  14. Making a COVID-19 vaccine available at no cost to all eligible employees.
  15. Treating vaccinated and unvaccinated employees the same.

As with all COVID-19 guidance, the regulations and recommendations are constantly evolving as we learn more about the disease and the impact of vaccines.  We recommend regularly checking OSHA guidance.  In addition, Tyler Law LLP is keeping up to date with the latest COVID-19 developments and can help advise your business on best practices unique to your situation.

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