In response to the continuing impacts of the pandemic on the United States workforce, on January 21, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order (“EO”) concerning COVID-19 in the workplace. The EO required the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) to take several actions related to combatting COVID-19 including issuing revised COVID-19 guidance within in two weeks.
On January 29, 2021, OSHA issued this guidance to help employers implement a COVID-19 prevention program to identify risks which could lead to exposure and contraction. The guidance is intended to inform employers and workers in most workplace settings outside of healthcare to identify risks and determine appropriate control measures.
In the guidance, OSHA states implementing a COVID-19 prevention program is the most effective way to reduce the spread of the virus. The guidance recommends the following sixteen essential elements in a prevention program:
- Assignment of a workplace coordinator;
- Identification of where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work;
- Identification of a combination of measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, in line with the principles of the hierarchy of controls;
- Consideration of protections for workers at higher risk for severe illness through supportive policies and practices;
- Establishment of a system for communicating effectively with workers and in a language they understand;
- Educate and train workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in a language they understand;
- Instruct workers who are infected or potentially infected to stay home or isolate or quarantine to prevent or reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19;
- Minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation of workers;
- Isolating workers who show symptoms at work;
- Performing enhanced cleaning and disinfection after people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 have been in the facility;
- Providing guidance on screening and testing;
- Recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths;
- Implementing protections from retaliation and setting up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards;
- Making a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees;
- Not distinguishing between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not; and
- Being aware of other applicable OSHA standards.
In addition to the essential elements, the guidance identifies key measures for limiting the spread of COVID-19. Key measures include the separation of infected people from the workplace, implementation of social distancing at work, installation of physical barriers, use of face coverings, enhanced ventilation measures, the use of personal protective equipment, and performance of enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures. Under each key measure, OSHA points to relevant Center for Disease Control guidance and actions to limit the spread of COVID-19. OSHA will update their guidance as needed based on changes in science, best practices, and standards.
If you have any MSHA or OSHA related question, please feel free to reach out to your Fennemore attorney for assistance.