The coronavirus pandemic has uprooted businesses across the country. Even in low-risk sectors, worker health is being threatened. 54 percent of American employees say they are worried about COVID at their workplace.
In response, OSHA has issued new guidelines for worker health and safety. They’ve issued guidelines before, but nothing to this extent. You will need a lot of resources to follow these new OSHA regulations.
Start by understanding what they are. Here is your guide.
Where the New OSHA Guidelines Come From
OSHA prescribed two sets of guidelines. In March, they asked businesses to develop an infectious disease response plan.
The plan should include measures to identify people who are sick and encourage them to stay home. Businesses should provide protective gear to their employees. Healthcare and medical businesses must.
In June, OSHA issued recommendations for returning to work. They provided guiding principles like social distancing. OSHA then gave examples on how to implement those principles.
OSHA’s guidelines provided guidance during the early stages of the pandemic. But the pandemic has changed rapidly since June.
New variants of the coronavirus make returning to work more difficult. Companies need firmer oversight in order to protect the health of their workers.
On January 21 this year, President Biden issued an executive order on protecting worker health. He directed the Secretary of Labor to issue revised guidelines for workplace safety. In particular, he asked the Secretary to consider if masks are necessary and how OSHA could operate during the pandemic.
OSHA issued new recommendations on January 29. As the pandemic progresses, OSHA may revise these recommendations or provide new ones. As of this writing, these are the guidelines that businesses should follow.
Assigning a Workplace Coordinator for Worker Health and Safety
OSHA has not previously recommended assigning a workplace coordinator. This coordinator should take responsibility for COVID-19 issues.
This coordinator can be a coordinator of another department. But overseeing COVID-19 is a major responsibility that may take a lot of time and resources. The coordinator should have training in preparing the workplace for COVID-19 before taking the responsibility.
They should oversee efforts to socially distance, wear protective equipment, and quarantine at home. They should contact local health officials for advice, and they should monitor the news for developments.
OSHA recommends that the coordinator conduct hazard assessments. These assessments should identify potential risks and solutions to neutralize those risks. If workers cannot socially distance, the assessment should detail how the company can place barriers between employees.
The coordinator should heed the concerns of high-risk employees. People with pre-existing conditions like diabetes or HIV/AIDS are at a far higher risk of dying from COVID-19. They need to consult with and adopt measures that protect high-risk employees in particular.
Your company must report any COVID-19 outbreaks, hospitalizations, or deaths to your local health board. The coordinator can oversee that outreach, but upper-level managers should be involved as well.
Making a COVID-19 Vaccine Available
Vaccines are available to healthcare workers and high-risk people. The two vaccines that the CDC has authorized are from Pfizer and Moderna. OSHA and the CDC do not have a recommendation for which vaccine to take.
Three more vaccines are in Phase 3 clinical trials. They may receive CDC approval in the coming weeks.
If you can get a vaccine, you should get one right away. Do not wait. An incomplete or temporary protection is better than no protection at all.
Companies must make a COVID-19 vaccine available for free to all eligible employees. They should also provide information on the benefits of vaccination.
Even after getting vaccinated, employees need to practice protective measures. People who have received a vaccine do not have complete protection, especially from new COVID-19 variants. They may be able to pass the infection on to others, so social distancing must remain in place.
New Quarantine Policies
OSHA has strengthened its previous policies for employees who should quarantine. Previous rules still apply.
A person must remain at home for two weeks if they were in close contact with someone who had COVID-19. Close contact is being within six feet for fifteen minutes or more. They must also remain at home if they provided care to someone with COVID-19.
A person now must stay at home if they had direct contact with a sick person. If they shook hands or hugged them, they must remain home. If they shared eating or drinking utensils, they must quarantine.
If someone sneezed or coughed on them, they must remain home. Single respiratory droplets can spread an infection.
Workers who show up to work with signs of infection must go into isolation. The company should send them home and ask them to quarantine.
Face Covering Strategies
Everyone must wear a face covering at all times. The only time they should not is when they are eating. There must be social distancing and/or barriers between workers in spaces where food is consumed.
Employers should provide face coverings at no cost. Ideally, all workers will wear two face coverings. This provides additional protection against new variants of the coronavirus.
Each face covering should have at least two layers. They should have no exhalation valves or vents. Workers should not have to touch their faces often in order to secure their masks into place.
In businesses where masks can become wet or stained, employers should provide replacements. There should be enough for every employee to receive one when they want one.
Workers can wear face shields to keep their masks from getting wet. Employers should provide shields while bearing in mind that they do not provide protection by themselves. They must accompany other face coverings.
If a business has hard-of-hearing workers, employers should provide masks with clear coverings. Workers should be able to read lips without issue.
Employers should provide additional pieces of protective equipment, when appropriate. This includes respirators, protective gowns, and gloves. Supplies for good hygiene should also be available, especially hand sanitizer and tissues.
Every workplace should have ventilated air. Companies and building managers should ensure that ventilation systems provide high-quality indoor air for every space.
Ventilation rates should increase whenever possible. Open windows and doors and place fans in front of them.
Outdoor air dampers should open out to avoid recirculation. Recirculated air can trap respiratory droplets in a building, transmitting infections. Physical barriers should not impede ventilation or trap respiratory droplets.
Ventilation systems can run longer hours so exchanges of air are thorough. Building managers can use ultraviolet irradiation to inactivate COVID-19. Common rooms like entranceways and kitchens should receive special care.
Companies should reduce the occupancy level in their building. If ventilation cannot improve, the occupancy level should be as low as possible. Lack of well-ventilated air poses a major risk to workers, even in a small setting.
Businesses should educate their employees about COVID-19 policies. The coordinator and high-ranking managers should be in touch with all employees, including contractors. Every person should understand how quarantines and face-covering works.
They should also understand how COVID-19 is spread. They should learn about airborne pathogens and bloodborne pathogens training, understanding how to wash their hands and wear protective gear.
To reinforce education, a company should install reminders of social distancing. Signs, tape marks, and visual clues should be placed six feet apart from each other. A company should place barriers where distancing cannot be maintained.
Information should be available in all languages that workers understand. This includes American Sign Language and non-English languages. Workers should have multiple ways to understand information, including visual aids and texts.
The contact information of the coordinator and other COVID-related professionals should be available. Your company should encourage workers to reach out with any questions about COVID-19 or company policies.
Workers should also receive education about their legal rights. They should know that they can take time off of work if they are sick. They must know that they can raise concerns about worker health without retaliation.