It is now 2021 and the COVID-19 pandemic is still prevalent. Ohio employers continue to adapt to the changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused within their workplace. In order to best protect employees, employers should monitor guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) for best practices within the workplace.
On January 29, 2021, OSHA released its most recent guidance on employer best practices, which can be found at https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework. This guidance is intended for non-healthcare employers. While OSHA makes clear that the guidance “is not a standard or regulation” and “creates no new legal obligations,” the guidance nevertheless provides a preview of what OSHA may include in an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), which will be potentially implemented on March 15, 2021, making the guidance mandatory. This guidance will likely be familiar, as it combines previously issued suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and OSHA. There are, however, several notable changes:
- Assignment of a Workplace Coordinator. This employee will act on the employer’s behalf and be responsible for COVID-19 issues.
- Make a COVID-19 Vaccine Available and Provide Information: Employers should provide vaccinations to eligible employees at no cost. OSHA also recommends that employers provide training and information on the benefits and safety of vaccinations. Although OSHA does not specify the suggested training or information, the Guidance references the CDC’s “Frequently Asked Questions About Vaccination.”
- Vaccinated Employees vs. Non-vaccinated Employees: Due to the limited information on the spread of COVID-19 and the effect of vaccination on person-to-person transmission, all employees should continue to follow all protective measures, such as wearing a mask, socially distancing, and quarantining after COVID-19 exposure, whether the employee is vaccinated or not.
- Provide All Employees with Face Coverings: OSHA now encourages employers to purchase masks for employees, unless their work task requires a respirator.
Role of Employers
The guidance also reviews additional practices that OSHA suggests employers should follow to implement an effective COVID-19 prevention program, which are as follows:
- Perform a hazard assessment to identify where and how employees might be exposed to COVID-19.
- Identify measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19, such as: using PPE, physical distancing, installing barriers, improving ventilation, and performing routine cleaning and disinfection.
- Accommodate workers at higher risk of illness from COVID-19.
- Establish a system of communication and education of COVID-19 related issues and procedures in a language employees understand.
- Instruct workers who are infected or potentially infected to stay home and isolate or quarantine to minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on other employees
- Isolate employees who become symptomatic at work by immediately separating them from other employees.
- Perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection of all infected areas and immediate work areas after a person in the workplace has shown symptoms of COVID-19. A thorough list of CDC cleaning and disinfecting recommendations can be found here.
- Provide guidance testing and screening in your workplace as well as the availability of testing options
- All employers are required to record work-related cases of COVID-19 if: (1) the case is a confirmed case of COVID-19; (2) the case is work-related; and (3) the case involves one or more relevant recording criteria.
- Provide anonymous complaint protocols to protect employees from retaliation for reporting COVID-19 concerns.
Until an ETS is issued, the guidance noted above is advisory in nature and does not have the force of law to ensure that recommendations are followed. However, in order to best protect the health and safety of the Ohio workforce, and to help prevent employers from falling into trouble, all employers are encouraged to follow the above guidelines in implementing best practices in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. If you are an employer, evaluate these guidelines in conjunction with your current COVID-19 safety standards and implement new and updated standards to best protect your workforce from the hazards of COVID-19.
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