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Following President Biden’s January mandate to OSHA to provide clear guidance to protect workers from COVID-19 exposure, OSHA has issued “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.”
OSHA’s new guidance is intended to inform employers and workers of the risks of COVID-19, help identify risks of being exposed to and/or contracting COVID-19, and help determine appropriate control measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. While neither a new standard nor regulation that creates new legal obligations on behalf of employers, this guidance represents a significant shift in OSHA’s response to the pandemic.
OSHA now clearly states that employers should implement COVID-19 prevention programs specific to their workplaces, recommending specific program elements, including:
- Assigning a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19
- Identifying where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work through hazard assessments
- Identifying a combination of control measures that limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace
- Establishing a communication system that all employees can utilize and understand
- Adopting non-punitive measures and policies to ensure that workers who are infected or potentially infected are separated and sent home from the workplace
- Performing enhanced cleaning and disinfection after people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 have been in the facility
- Making a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to eligible employees
- Continuing to require protective measures despite employees being vaccinated
- Ensuring that coronavirus policies and procedures are communicated to both English and non-English speaking workers
- Implement protections from retaliation for workers who raise coronavirus-related concern
As President Biden continues to make responding to the COVID-19 pandemic a cornerstone of his presidency, employers can likely expect more guidance in the coming weeks.