In response to an earlier executive order from President Biden directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to update safety recommendations for businesses and provide stronger and more specific guidance regarding strategies to mitigate the impacts and spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued updated guidance.
In the guidance, OSHA identified key components of an effective COVID-19 prevention program. These include:
- Conducting hazard assessments.
- Identifying measures that limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, including but not limited, to the following: (a) separating and sending home infected or potentially infected people from the workplace; (b) implementing physical distancing; (c) installing barriers where physical distancing cannot be maintained; (d) using face coverings; (e) improving ventilation; (f) providing supplies for good hygiene; and (g) routine cleaning and disinfection.
- Adopting measures to ensure that workers who are infected or potentially infected are separated and sent home from the workplace.
- Implementing protection from retaliation for workers who raise COVID-19 related concerns.
Some of the guidance is targeted and specific. For example, consistent with CDC guidelines, OSHA recommends a 10-day quarantine for employees with a COVID-19 diagnosis or COVID-19 symptoms, and a 14-day quarantine for employees exposed to COVID-19 (e. direct physical contact or within six feet of person who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more within a 24 hour period, starting from two days before illness onset). According to the CDC, the reason for the shorter period is that persons are no longer infectious 10 days after onset of symptoms.
OSHA stressed that employees who are vaccinated must continue to follow protective measures in the workplace, including the continued use of PPE. OSHA further advised that more targeted guidelines from the CDC apply to the healthcare and emergency response settings.
While OSHA’s updated guidance does not create new health standards or requirements for employers, the Biden Administration’s increased focus on workplace safety and the potential for emergency temporary standards from OSHA in the coming weeks, provides a good opportunity for employers to revisit and reassess their COVID-19 workplace policies.