OSHA Issues Revised COVID-19 Guidance on Protecting Workers | McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC

On June 10, 2021, OSHA released a revised version of its Protecting workers: guidelines for reducing and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace (“Workplace Guidance”). This Guideline was issued at the same time as the Temporary Emergency Standard, which only applies to healthcare. OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard is discussed in our separate blog post found here. Employers in all other industries should consider the recommendations in the Workplace Guidelines.

OSHA has emphasized the importance of employee vaccination and has now made it clear that “[F]ully vaccinated people can resume their activities without wearing masks or distancing themselves.” Accordingly, OSHA’s revised Workplace Guidance focuses primarily on measures to protect unvaccinated workers and workers who have been vaccinated but have a medical condition, such as a previous transplant or long-term use of corticosteroids or other immune-weakening drugs, that can affect the worker’s immune system to influence. response to the vaccine.

The workplace guidance recommends that employers still need to take the following steps to protect unvaccinated or otherwise high-risk workers in their workplace:

  1. Give employees paid leave to get vaccinated.
  2. Instruct all workers who are infected, unvaccinated workers who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and all workers with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home from work.
  3. Continue to maintain physical distance from unvaccinated and otherwise high-risk workers.
  4. Provide unvaccinated and otherwise high-risk at workers with face coverings or surgical masks for use in the workplace. OSHA recommends that unvaccinated and otherwise high-risk workers should continue to wear face coverings, especially when social distancing is not possible. OSHA also recommends companies continue to suggest that unvaccinated customers and guests continue to wear face coverings by posting signs recommending that they do so, even if it is no longer required by applicable state and local requirements.
  5. Educate and train employees in your COVID-19 policies and procedures.
  6. Maintain ventilation systems. In this regard, the Workplace Guidance suggests the following measures to ensure that HVAC systems allow proper ventilation and filtration:
    • Verify that the HVAC system is operating in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and design specifications.
    • Perform all regularly scheduled inspections and maintenance.
    • Maximize the amount of outside air supplied by installing air filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value of 13 or higher where possible.
    • Maximize natural ventilation in buildings without HVAC systems by opening windows or doors as needed.
    • Consider using portable air purifiers with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters in areas with high occupancy or limited ventilation.
  1. If someone who has been in the institution within 24 hours, suspected of having or having COVID-19, Follow the CDC Cleaning and Disinfection Recommendations.
  2. Follow OSHA registration requirements and register workplace COVID-19 cases, if they are considered work-related. In particular, OSHA states that it will not maintain its registration standard regarding adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines until May 2022, and employers must register illness-related vaccine adverse events in the OSHA 300 log. In certain limited circumstances, employers may also be required to report deaths or hospitalizations due to work-related COVID-19 cases. We recommend that you consult counsel with questions about OSHA’s requirements for reporting death and hospitalization.
  3. Implement retaliation protections and set up an anonymous process for employees to raise concerns about COVID-19-related hazards.

Now that government measures have expired or are about to be lifted, OSHA’s Workplace Guidance provides key recommendations for employers’ COVID-19 response measures in this next (hopefully final) phase of the pandemic. While OSHA has emphasized that the Workplace Guidance is advisory, significant non-compliance with the recommendations could undermine employee confidence in your workplace safety measures and/or result in a citation under the General Duty Clause.

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