As COVID-19 continues to work its way through the population, OSHA has issued new safety protocols for workplaces to better address the issue and help protect employees, contractors and visitors. This guidance was issued on January 29, 2021, and it offers details to supplement what many employers are already been doing.
What's the Purpose of These Guidelines?
It's an opportunity for employers to identify potential hazards and help protect employees from exposure to COVID-19 in accordance with the employer's responsibility to "...furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees...". These guidelines fall in line with OSHA requirements to provide a safe workplace.
OSHA's updated guidelines are applicable to the general workplace. Industry-specific health and safety regulations may also apply.
What Are the Guidelines?
OSHA stresses the importance of employee engagement when establishing a COVID-19 prevention program at work. A prevention program should include the following:
- Workplace Coordinator: This person responds to and manages virus-related concerns.
- Hazard Assessment: Identify areas and situations where workers may be exposed to COVID-19.
- Measures to Limit the Spread of the Virus: This may include a number of steps and they may vary from industry to industry: maintain physical distance, install barriers where distance cannot be maintained, send home sick or potentially infected workers, use face coverings and other applicable PPE, improve ventilation, clean regularly, and supply hygiene products like hand sanitizer.
- Consider High-Risk Workers: You may take special precautions for those individuals who are considered high risk for contracting COVID-19, such as working from home or in an isolated area.
- Clear Communications: Workers should understand how to report symptoms, exposure, or workplace hazards without fear of getting in trouble.
- Stay Home Policies: Workers who are sick or who may have been exposed to the virus should be instructed to stay home.
- Minimize the Negative Impact of Missing Work: If possible, provide the opportunity to work from home or in an isolated area on-site. If that's not possible, consider paid sick leave or extended medical leave.
- Isolate and Disinfect: If someone arrives sick to work, isolate them or send them home, then clean and disinfect any areas the infected person came in contact with. Specific cleaning protocols include opening doors and windows, waiting as long as possible before cleaning, protecting the cleaners with appropriate PPE in accordance with OSHA regulations, and more. Cleaning and disinfecting should occur on a regular basis as a precautionary measure, as well.
- Screening and Testing, Reporting, and Vaccinations: Educate employees about COVID-19 testing protocols and expectations. Report infections in accordance with local regulations; work-related COVID-19 cases and fatalities must be reported according to OSHA regulations. You may choose to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to employees at no cost, and you should establish guidelines to ensure both vaccinated and unvaccinated workers are treated the same way in regard to employment as well as safety precautions in the workplace. For example, even those who have been vaccinated should continue to wear masks.
The guidelines offer specific suggestions for maintaining physical distance, using face masks, PPE, and physical barriers, improving ventilation, cleaning and disinfecting and supplying workers with hygiene supplies like soap, water, hand sanitizer, tissues, no-touch trash cans and more as well as educational posters.
Want more Covid-19 related information? See the article OSHA Requires Incident Investigation for Work-Related COVID-19 Cases.
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