The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today issued updated guidance to help employers protect unvaccinated workers in non-healthcare-related industries. The agency said the optional guidelines place special emphasis on industries that are noted for prolonged close-contacts including meat processing, manufacturing, seafood, and grocery and high-volume retail.
Advice For Corporate Executives
David Berndt is associate general counsel at G&A Partners, a national professional employer organization. He noted that OSHA also announced an emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) today that is focused on protecting healthcare workers from contracting coronavirus. “Our advice to employers is that they should immediately assess the requirements set out in the ETS and figure out how they’re going to comply within the next two weeks.”
Berndt said, “While OSHA said they’re going to use their discretion ‘to avoid citing employers who miss a compliance deadline but are making a good faith effort to comply with the ETS,’ this doesn’t remove the urgency.
“Companies would be wise to adhere to the provided guidance” and (1) conduct a hazard assessment; (2) create a written plan to mitigate virus spread; and (3) provide healthcare workers with N95 respirators or other personal protective equipment. “By following these three steps, business leaders will take care of their employees and be able to respond affirmatively to any OSHA audit,” he advised.
OSHA said today that employers, “should still take steps to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in their workplaces, or well-defined portions of workplaces.” It recommended employers discuss with workers and their representatives “ how to implement multi-layered interventions to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers and mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
OSHA’s recommended steps include:
Paid Time Off
- Granting paid time off for employees to get vaccinated.
- Instructing any workers who are infected, unvaccinated workers who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and all workers with Covid-19 symptoms to stay home from work to prevent or reduce the risk of transmission of the virus that causes Covid-19.
- Implementing physical distancing for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in all communal work areas.
- Limiting the number of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in one place at any given time.
Barriers And Shields
- At fixed workstations where unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers are not able to remain at least six feet away from other people, transparent shields or other solid barriers (e.g., fire resistant plastic sheeting or flexible strip curtains) can separate these workers from other people.
- Provide face coverings to unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers at no cost.
- Unless otherwise provided by federal, state, or local requirements, unvaccinated workers who are outdoors may opt not to wear face coverings unless they are at-risk, for example, if they are immunocompromised.
- When an employer determines that PPE is necessary to protect unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers, the employer must provide PPE in accordance with relevant mandatory OSHA standards and should consider providing PPE in accordance with other industry-specific guidance.
- Suggest that unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests wear face coverings, especially in public-facing workplaces such as retail establishments.
Education And Training
- Educate and train workers on your Covid-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in language they understand.
- Ensure that workers understand their rights to a safe and healthful work environment, whom to contact with questions or concerns about workplace safety and health, and their right to raise workplace safety and health concerns free from retaliation.
- Maintain ventilation systems.
- Perform routine cleaning and disinfection.
- Record and report Covid-19 infections and deaths.
Protection Against Retaliation
- Implement protections from retaliation and set up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about Covid-19-related hazards.
More Reporting Tools Needed
Bruce Dahlgren, CEO of MetricStream, said, “It’s not enough to just protect frontline workers’ health. Organizations should also consider providing them with the tools they need to report issues of non-compliance. They are in a unique position that often enables them to be an early signal when risks arise.
“Providing frontline workers with adequate reporting tools is critical to success. Observation management systems can enable frontline workers to report issues discreetly and anonymously, empowering everyone to play a key role in managing risk,” he said.
David Fontain is the founder and CEO of Foresight Commercial Insurance. He said as more businesses welcome employees back to work and more local restrictions are relaxed, “OSHA’s updated guidance reinforces and reminds leaders that they are still accountable for protecting their employees against Covid-19 per state or federal OSHA guidelines.
“Business leaders should continue doing everything they can, from following proper PPE guidelines to ensuring adequate ventilation is in place. Mitigating the risk of exposure is not only a signal of a strong work culture that centers wellness and care–it also reduces the likelihood that businesses will experience further interruption to operations due to Covid-19 contagion,” he counseled.