OSHA Updates COVID-19 Guidelines

Topics: Loss Control

Summary: President Biden signed an executive order protecting the health and safety of workers from COVID-19. In response, OSHA revised their COVID-19 guidelines to emphasize the role of employees in COVID-19 safety requirements. Learn about the updated recommendations in this article.

Updated OSHA COVID-19 Guidelines

On the second day of his administration, President Biden signed an executive order protecting workers' health and safety from COVID-19. The order requires the government to take swift action to reduce the risk of workers contracting COVID-19 in the workplace, including guidance for mask-wearing, partnering with state and local governments to better protect public employees, enforcing worker health and safety requirements and getting additional resources to help employers protect employees. The executive order required the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to review enforcement efforts and determine changes that can be made to better protect workers.

OSHA’s Workplace COVID-19 Prevention Program

In response to President Biden’s executive order, OSHA created Protected Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace. In the new guide, OSHA updated their recommendations for an effective COVID-19 prevention program. OSHA’s plan encourages both employees and management involvement in developing and implementing the program’s elements. OSHA recommends the following to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace:
  • Assign a workplace coordinator: This person would be responsible for COVID-19 issues on the employer’s behalf.
  • Identify COVID-19 worksite exposures: Employees and managers should perform a workplace hazard assessment to identify areas that could be COVID-19 exposure areas.
  • Create guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19: The policies should include instructions on separating and sending home infected or potentially infected employees, implementing physical distancing in communal work areas, performing routine cleaning, providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and other measures to protect workers from COVID-19. OSHA has provided specific industry guidelines that go into further detail.
  • Protections for higher-risk workers: Older adults or those with underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk of severe illness with COVID-19. Where possible, employers should modify work areas or allow higher-risk employees to work from home to lessen the risk.
  • Develop a company COVID-19 communication plan: Employers should communicate all COVID-19 policies and procedures clearly, concisely and in an understandable language to their workers, including self-reporting, without fear of reprisal.
  • Educate and train workers on procedures: Ensure that all employees have ongoing training on your COVID-19 policies and procedures. The training should include materials about the basic facts of COVID-19, how it is spread, and the importance of face coverings, physical distancing and hand hygiene. Additionally, workers need to understand their rights to a safe and healthy work environment and whom to contact if they have questions or concerns about their work area.
  • Instruct workers to stay home if infected or potentially infected: To reduce the spread of COVID-19, workers who are infected or exposed to COVID-19 should be instructed to stay at home and isolate and quarantine from others.
  • Minimize the negative impact of worker isolation or quarantine: When possible, allow workers to work from home or work in an area isolated from others. If that is not possible, allow workers to use paid sick leave or consider implementing paid leave policies to reduce everyone's risk in the workplace.
  • Isolate workers who show symptoms at work: Workers who arrive at work with or develop coronavirus symptoms during their work shift should be immediately separated from other workers, customers, etc., sent home and encouraged to seek medical attention.
  • Perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection: If there has been a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case in your facility, follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations, including closing areas used by the potentially infected person for enhanced cleaning, open windows and doors to increase air circulation and immediately cleaning work areas and equipment used by the ill worker.
  • Provide guidance on screening and testing: Follow state and local guidance for screening and viral testing in the workplace. Employers should inform workers of testing availability and requirements. Also, remember that performing health checks is not a replacement for protective measures such as face coverings and physical distancing.
  • Report COVID-19 infections and deaths: Employers are responsible for recording work-related cases of COVID-19 on Form 300 logs. Employers must follow the requirements in 29 CFR 1904 when reporting COVID-19 fatalities and hospitalizations to OSHA.
  • Implement protections from retaliation: Set up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19 related hazards and let them know they are protected from retaliation. OSHA standards prohibit discharging or discriminating against employees for raising reasonable concerns about safety related to COVID-19.
  • Make a COVID-19 vaccine available: The vaccination series should be available at no cost to all eligible employees. Also, businesses should provide information on the benefits and safety of vaccinations.
  • Don’t distinguish between vaccinated workers and those who are not: Workers who are vaccinated must continue to follow protective measures. The CDC is still reviewing the protections of the vaccines before changing current COVID-19 recommendations.
Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh has put a temporary hold  on the OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Standards that were due on March 15, 2021. Secretary Walsh wants to make sure that the COVID-19 workplace safety recommendations reflects the latest scientific data and CDC guidance as well as updates procedures in Virginia, Oregon, California and Michigan.

Following Updated COVID-19 Guidelines: A Safe and Healthy Workplace
The updated OSHA guidelines focus on a safe and healthy workplace, emphasizing workers being more involved in developing prevention plans with their management. The guidelines also protect workers from retaliation for reporting issues with COVID-19 safety requirements. The recommendations also ask employers to consider protections for workers at higher risk of severe illness, including older and disabled employees.

Kelley Barnett, AmTrust Corporate Counsel for Labor and Employment explains the importance of the updated OSHA guidelines, “To ensure that all employees are focused on a safe and healthy workplace, businesses should review and revise their COVID-19 prevention plans to make sure they align with OSHA’s updated guidelines. Businesses should also train employees, including supervisors, on their updated COVID-19 prevention plans.”

AmTrust’s Loss Control Team Assists Businesses in Creating a Safe Workplace

AmTrust’s Loss Control Department knows that access to the right safety resources and commercial property safeguards can help your organization take a proactive approach in reducing workplace injuries and improving employee safety. For more information about our small business insurance solutions, please contact us today.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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