OSHA ISSUES UPDATED COVID-19 WORKPLACE GUIDANCE
Today, OSHA provided much-anticipated COVID-19 guidance for multiple workplace environments that will help employers create policies and procedures as they continue to operate and/or reopen their businesses and offices. OSHA provided guidance specific to three settings: (1) an emergency temporary standard for healthcare settings; (2) guidance for employers outside the healthcare setting; and (3) additional guidance for higher risk workplaces (such as production facilities and workplaces with low level of immunization or high levels of exposure in the community). Each of these are individual summarized below. The guidance reiterates employers’ responsibility for providing a safe and healthy workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. The guidance states, that except for workplace settings covered by the ETS and mask requirements for public transportation, most employers no longer need to take steps to protect their workers from COVID-19 exposure in any workplace, or well-defined portions of a workplace, where all employees are fully vaccinated. Employers, however, should still take steps to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in their workplaces, or well-defined portions of workplaces. 1. Employers in Healthcare settings OSHA issued a mandatory emergency temporary standard (ETS) outlining workplace safety parameters for employers in the health care sector for the duration of the pandemic (to protect healthcare workers) which will take effect once the ETS is published in the Federal Register (date unknown). The ETS will require employers in the health care sector to, among several other steps, develop a COVID-19 plan, provide PPE, ensure maintain social distancing and other safety protocols, ensure patients are properly screened for virus symptoms and provide workers paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from vaccine side effects as encouragement to get the shot. The ETS includes a carve-out for certain workplaces where all workers are fully vaccinated and people who may have COVID-19 are barred. The ETS is available at https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/ets. 2. Employers Outside Healthcare Settings OSHA also issued voluntary guidelines for employers operating outside the health care context to protect unvaccinated workers, and provided an Appendix containing a separate set of measures deemed appropriate for higher-risk workplaces (such as production facilities where unvaccinated or at-risk workers work closely to one another, share transportation, live and work in community settings having elevated community transmission or share communal housing). The updated guidance is available at https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework#role-employers-workers. OSHA states employers outside the healthcare industry (those that do not fall under the ETS) should take the following steps to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19: A. Grant paid time off for employees to get vaccinated. B. Instruct 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. Ensure that absence policies are non-punitive. Eliminate or revise policies that encourage workers to come to work sick or when unvaccinated workers have been exposed to COVID-19. C. Implement physical distancing for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in all communal work areas. A key way to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers is to physically distance them from other unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk people (workers or customers) – generally at least 6 feet of distance is recommended, although this is not a guarantee of safety, especially in enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces. OSHA also suggests that employers can limit the number of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in one place at any given time, for example by implementing flexible worksites (e.g., telework); implementing flexible work hours (e.g., rotate or stagger shifts to limit the number of such workers in the workplace at the same time); delivering services remotely (e.g., phone, video, or web); or implementing flexible meeting and travel options, all for such workers. Employers can also erect transparent shields or other solid barriers (e.g., fire resistant plastic sheeting or flexible strip curtains) at fixed workstations where unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers are not able to remain at least 6 feet away from other people to separate these workers from other people. Barriers should block face-to-face pathways between individuals in order to prevent direct transmission of respiratory droplets, and any openings should be placed at the bottom and made as small as possible. The posture (sitting or standing) of users and the safety of the work environment should be considered when designing and installing barriers, as should the need for enhanced ventilation. D. Provide unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers with face coverings or surgical masks, unless their work task requires a respirator or other PPE.Such workers should wear a face covering that covers the nose and mouth to contain the wearer's respiratory droplets and help protect others and potentially themselves. Face coverings should be made of at least two layers of a tightly woven breathable fabric, such as cotton, and should not have exhalation valves or vents. They should fit snugly over the nose, mouth, and chin with no large gaps on the outside of the face. Employers should provide face coverings to unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers at no cost, including replacing face coverings that become wet or soiled and provide replacements frequently as needed. Face shields can also be provided for use with face coverings to prevent face coverings from getting wet and soiled, but face shields do not provide sufficient protection by themselves. Under federal anti-discrimination laws, employers may need to provide reasonable accommodation for any workers who are unable to wear or have difficulty wearing certain types of face coverings due to a disability or who need a religious accommodation under Title VII. In workplaces with employees who are deaf or hard of hearing, employers should consider acquiring masks with clear coverings over the mouth for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers to facilitate lip-reading. 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. Regardless, all workers should be supported in continuing face covering use if they choose, especially in order to safely work closely with other people. E. Educate and train workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in language they understand. Train managers on how to implement COVID-19 policies. Communicate supportive workplace policies clearly, frequently, and via multiple methods to promote a safe and healthy workplace. Communications should be in plain language that unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers understand (including non-English languages, and American Sign Language or other accessible communication methods, if applicable) and in a manner accessible to individuals with disabilities. Training should be directed at employees, contractors, and any other individuals on site, as appropriate, and should include:
- Basic facts about COVID-19, including how it is spread and the importance of physical distancing (including remote work), ventilation, vaccination, use of face coverings, and hand hygiene.
- Workplace policies and procedures implemented to protect workers from COVID-19 hazards.
- Stagger break times in these generally high-population workplaces, or provide temporary break areas and restrooms to avoid groups of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers congregating during breaks. Unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers should maintain at least 6 feet of distance from others at all times, including on breaks.
- Stagger workers' arrival and departure times to avoid congregations of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk in parking areas, locker rooms, and near time clocks.
- Provide visual cues (e.g., floor markings, signs) as a reminder to maintain physical distancing.
- Implement strategies (tailored to your workplace) to improve ventilation that protects workers as outlined in CDC's Ventilation in Buildingsand in the OSHA Alert: COVID-19 Guidance on Ventilation in the Workplace.
- Working on food processing or assembly lines can result in virus exposure because these workplaces have often been designed for a number of workers to stand next to or across from each other to maximize productivity. Proper spacing of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers (or if not possible, appropriate use of barriers) can help reduce the risks for such workers.
- Suggest masks for unvaccinated (or unknown-status) customers and other visitors.
- Consider means for physical distancing from other people who are not known to be fully vaccinated. If distancing is not possible, consider the use of barriers between work stations used by unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers and the locations customers will stand, with pass-through openings at the bottom, if possible.
- Move the electronic payment terminal/credit card reader farther away from any unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in order to increase the distance between customers and such workers, if possible.
- Shift primary stocking activities of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers to off-peak or after hours when possible to reduce contact between unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers and customers.
- Notify unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers of this risk and, to the extent feasible, help them limit the number of such workers in one vehicle.
- Make sure all unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers sharing a vehicle are wearing appropriate face coverings.
- Watch for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if they have been around someone who is sick. If they have symptoms of COVID-19, they should get tested and stay home and away from others.
- Monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days following an exposure.
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