New OSHA guidelines on how businesses should handle COVID-19 in the workplace
Update: OSHA updates guidance to reflect CDC mask and testing recommendations
On August 13, 2021, OSHA updated its guidance on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Recommendations include adherence to CDC guidelines, which include:
- Wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas where there is substantial or high transmission of the virus, even if you are vaccinated,
- Choosing to wear a mask even in other areas, especially if you are at risk, live with someone who is at risk, or are not fully vaccinated, and
- Getting tested 3-5 days after you have been exposed to someone who has or suspects they may have COVID-19, and wearing a mask indoors for 14 days or until you get a negative test result.
OSHA is expected to issue a ruling in the coming weeks requiring that employers with more than 100 employees must ensure their workers are either vaccinated or must be tested weekly.
Even as vaccinations are becoming widely available, businesses need to remain vigilent to keep employees and customers protected from COVID-19. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued new guidance to help businesses identify the risks of being exposed to and contracting COVID-19 in the workplace.
OSHA recommendations for employees
- Stay far enough away from others so you aren’t breathing in particles they produce. Generally, this means six feet apart, but further is better, especially if you’re in an enclosed space or one with poor ventilation.
- Wash your hands often.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Wear a face covering made of at least two layers of tightly woven, breathable fabric. Make sure it doesn’t have exhalation valves or vents.
- Wear a face covering and socially distance even if you feel fine. Some people can be infected and transmit the virus, even if they never show symptoms.
- Be alert for symptoms, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you develop any of these symptoms, get tested and isolate yourself until you get the results back.
- Even if you have been vaccinated, continue to wear a face covering, socially distance and maintain good hygiene habits. We don’t yet know whether those who have been vaccinated can still transmit the virus.
OSHA recommendations for employers
- Assign a workplace coordinator who is responsible for COVID-19 issues.
- Identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work.
- Identify measures that could limit the spread of the virus in the workplace, including:
- Separating and sending home infected or potentially infected workers
- Implementing physical distancing in communal work areas
- Installing barriers where physical distancing cannot be maintained
- Requiring face coverings and other PPE if appropriate
- Improving ventilation
- Providing hand sanitizer and other supplies necessary for good hygiene
- Performing routine cleaning and disinfection.
- Consider protections and accommodations for those at higher risk because of their age or other health conditions.
- Make sure you have an effective way to communicate with employees about precautions, possible exposures, and symptoms. Make sure they know who to report any symptoms or possible exposures to, and that they feel comfortable doing so.
- Make sure workers who are exposed or develop symptoms stay home and isolate themselves. Anyone who shows symptoms at work should immediately be separated from other employees and sent home.
- If someone exhibits symptoms or reports exposure, be sure to clean and disinfect the facility thoroughly.
- Provide guidance to employees on screening and testing, following state or local recommendations.
- Record and report any infections or deaths that are work related on the appropriate OSHA form.