OSHA Issues Stronger Workplace Guidance on Coronavirus

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On Jan. 29, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued stronger worker safety guidance to help employers and workers implement a coronavirus protection program and better identify risks which could lead to exposure and contraction.

The guidance followed President Biden’s directive to the agency to release clear guidance for employers to help keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure.

Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace” provides updated guidance and recommendations, and outlines existing safety and health standards.

“OSHA is updating its guidance to reduce the risk of transmission of the coronavirus and improve worker protections so businesses can operate safely and employees can stay safe and working,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick.

OSHA underscored the importance of implementing a coronavirus protection program to reduce the spread of the virus in the workplace, including the following essential elements:

  • Conducting a hazard assessment;
  • Identifying control measures to limit the spread of the virus;
  • Adopting policies for employee absences that don’t punish workers as a way to encourage potentially infected workers to remain home;
  • Ensuring that coronavirus policies and procedures are communicated to both English and non-English speaking workers; and
  • Implementing protections from retaliation for workers who raise coronavirus-related concerns.

The guidance details key measures for limiting coronavirus’s spread, including ensuring infected or potentially infected people are not in the workplace, implementing and following physical distancing protocols and using surgical masks or cloth face coverings. It also provides guidance on use of personal protective equipment, improving ventilation, good hygiene, and routine cleaning.

OSHA said it will update its guidance as developments in science, best practices and standards warrant.

Notably, the guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. It contains recommendations as well as descriptions of existing mandatory safety and health standards. The recommendations are advisory in nature, informational in content and are intended to assist employers in recognizing and abating hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm as part of their obligation to provide a safe and healthful workplace.

Contact ACA’s Riaz Zaman for more information.

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