How Revised OSHA Standards Affect Employers
It has been more than a year since the first case was discovered and COVID-19 continues to impact the world. Recently, U.S. President Biden issued an Executive Order to extend worker protections, amending the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Guidelines for American employers.
The message to workplaces from the Biden administration and OSHA is quite clear: Further mandates designed to protect employees from COVID-19 will be forthcoming.
“The guidance issued today is the first step in the process, but it’s certainly not the last step in that process,” shared Jim Frederick, OSHA’s acting administrator and the agency’s principal deputy assistant secretary.
Keep reading to learn more about the revised OSHA standards, what they mean for you, and how you can stay compliant.
Under the previous Occupational Safety and Health Act, as well as most state OSHA plans, employers were required to furnish “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 their employees.”
That means that - theoretically - most organizations should have already been closely monitoring COVID-19 and doing their part to mitigate risk and watch out for their employees’ safety.
That said, because of the unprecedented nature of this health crisis, OSHA updated some of its requirements specifically to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Though the guidance doesn’t yet carry legal obligations for employers, there is already a General Duty clause that protects employees.
Revised OSHA documentation states that employers should create programs that work for their own unique spaces, but all programs should include the following elements:
Conducting a hazard assessment
Identifying a combination of measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace
Adopting measures to ensure that workers who are (potentially) infected are not in contact with other people in the workplace
Implementing protection from retaliation for workers who raise COVID-related concerns
Educating and training workers on COVID-19 policies and procedures in a language they understand
Additional measures of the revised OSHA standards include the following:
Ensuring infected or potentially infected people are not in the workplace
Implementing physical distancing and suppressing the spread by using surgical face masks or cloth face coverings
Providing workers with appropriate personal protective equipment, and making sure they are using it properly
Providing supplies for good hygiene and routine cleaning
What Does the Future Hold for Employers?
Most experts agree that in order to protect workers across the country, OSHA will release a national emergency temporary standard applying to COVID-19.
These standards have already been implemented in a few states and provide employers with specific legal requirements on what they need to do to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in their work environments.
For example, California developed a temporary emergency standard that requires businesses to implement “infection prevention techniques” and keep records of all COVID-19 cases and exposures. Business leaders should be mindful of the regulations within their own state as well as federal mandates. You can see state-specific workplace regulations in your area here.
If you haven’t already established a COVID-19 response program, it is time to get started. Few items to consider employee safety in the workplace—hygiene, distancing, barriers, contact tracing implementation, and guidance around roles and responsibilities.
Now you may wonder “What about the vaccine? Surely as vaccination levels increase, we will put this virus behind us.”
Unfortunately, vaccine rollout remains a challenge across the country. Achieving herd immunity will remain a challenge considering that a large portion of the US population doesn’t want to get vaccinated.
In the current vaccination climate, employers should account for the fact that it will be next to impossible to have workplaces immune to the virus. As such, putting enough protection measures will serve as vital safety nets to prevent a facility-wide outbreak and eventual shutdown.
The Threat is Still Looming
Organizations hoping for a rapid end to the effects of COVID-19 are likely going to be disappointed. The latest research shows that the P1 variant of the virus may be resistant to some vaccines. Furthermore, new variants appear all the time - just look at the new strain responsible for most current California cases.
Another example is Brazil. After COVID-19 swept through the country, many believed that citizens would be immune to further infection. However, a new strain was recently discovered that is 2.2 times more transmissible.
Finally, and perhaps most applicable to the business landscape, are the logistical hurdles and overall hesitation to the vaccination rollout. Moreover, as new variants and strains emerge, we will need to closely monitor the effectiveness of the current vaccines.
How You Can Prepare for a Safe Return to Work
Most importantly, neither business leaders nor employees should ease up on their COVID-19 precautions. Social distancing, deep cleaning facilities, and working from home will continue to hold significance in reducing the risk of virus in the workplace.
For a few businesses like manufacturing and food processing, working from home is simply not an option.
If you have reopened your workplace or are planning to return sometime soon, here’s how you can stay ahead of the curve:
Perform health checks daily to make sure staff are not coming to work sick.
Log contact between team members, ideally using an automated solution that allows more proactive vigilance and caution.
Have measures in place to immediately contact trace to stop the spread of illness without having to shut down entirely or risk lives.
Document preemptive measures to identify high-risk individuals and implement real-time changes on-site
Companies looking to ensure a safe work environment for their employees, choose automated contact tracing solutions. Safeteams—a social distancing and contact tracing solution—is being used by over 27,000 employees within 100 facilities of all sizes across various industries. With continued vigilance and innovative technology, we can work together to ensure that further lockdowns are not needed at all. For a complete breakdown of how our technology can help you create a safe, healthy, and OSHA compliant workplace, talk to one of our experts today.