The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released the long-expected Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for COVID-19, requested by President Biden as part of his COVID-19 response strategy. Surprisingly, the standard includes only healthcare workers in the new workplace safety rules.
While protecting healthcare workers from COVID-19 is crucial, the ETS does not extend to other workplaces that may expose employees to the coronavirus. Former Obama administration Assistant Secretary of Labor said, “OSHA’s failure to issue a COVID-specific standard in other high-risk industries like meat and poultry processing, corrections, homeless shelters, and retail establishments is disappointing. If exposure is not controlled in these workplaces, they will continue to be important drivers of infections.”
We will keep you informed of any developments in the rules, which appear in full on the OSHA website.
Shortly after issuing the ETS for healthcare settings, the agency updated its workplace guidance to mirror changes in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for fully vaccinated people. In Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace, OSHA states that the update is advisory in nature and creates no new legal obligations. The guidance does clarify that current mandatory standards remain in effect.
Updates focus primarily on an employer’s duties to protect unvaccinated workers and others who are at risk, including those who do not have full immune response to the vaccine due to a medical condition or medication.
Protective measures include:
- Granting time off for employees to be vaccinated
- Instructing employees, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, to stay at home if they have COVID-19 or symptoms of the virus.
- Enforcing physical distancing for unvaccinated and other at-risk employees in communal areas and limit the number of such employees in one place at a given time.
- Providing unvaccinated and other at-risk employees with facemasks unless their work tasks require a respirator.
- Training employees in COVID-19 policies and procedures and making sure they understand their rights to a safe workplace, how to report concerts, and freedom from retaliation for raising health and safety issues.
- Encouraging customers, guests, and visitors to wear face coverings.
- Continuing routine cleaning and disinfection and following CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations if someone confirmed to have COVID-19 has been in the area.
For employers that have been awaiting OSHA updates, more questions remain. But they now have a guide to the actions that OSHA considers important to maintaining a safe workplace in the time of COVID-19.
As you implement the guidelines appropriate for your business, be sure to focus on a message of safety with your employees. The goal is to protect both vaccinated and unvaccinated workers moving forward. Consultation with your attorney will be invaluable in addressing any questions or concerns. As always, we are happy to help.