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August 27, 2021
OSHA updates employer COVID-19 guidance

On August 13, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its employer guidance on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. OSHA’s updates reflect new recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that those fully vaccinated wear face coverings in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission.

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Under OSHA’s updated guidance, employers should:

  • Facilitate employees’ getting vaccinated—granting paid time off (PTO) for employees to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects—and consider adopting workplace policies that require workers to get vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing.
  • Instruct employees who are infected and unvaccinated and have had close contact with someone who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, or who have COVID-19 symptoms, to stay home from work to prevent or reduce the risk of transmitting the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
  • Provide workers with face coverings or surgical masks, unless their work task requires a respirator or other personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Implement physical distancing of at least 6 feet in communal work areas for unvaccinated and at-risk workers, such as those with chronic medical conditions or who are undergoing prolonged treatment with medications that suppress immunity.
  • Educate and train employees on the company’s COVID-19 policies and procedures.
  • In areas of substantial or high transmission, require or suggest that unvaccinated customers, guests, or visitors in public-facing workplaces such as retail establishments wear face coverings.
  • Maintain ventilation systems, consulting the CDC’s Ventilation in Buildings guidance; OSHA’s COVID-19 Guidance on Ventilation in the Workplace alert; or recommendations from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) in its guidance for building operations and industrial settings during the pandemic, as well as perform routine cleaning and disinfection while complying with all of OSHA’s hazard communication and hazardous substances standards.
  • Record and report all COVID-19 workplace infections and deaths, implementing protections against retaliation for workers who report hazards or raise concerns about infection control.

The CDC revised its public health recommendations on July 27 in response to ongoing circulation of the B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant. The CDC also recommended that fully vaccinated people who have come into close contact with someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 be tested 3–5 days after exposure and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.

OSHA also reorganized an appendix to its employer guidance with recommendations for agricultural processing and the meat, poultry, and seafood processing industries, as well as manufacturing, which the agency considers “higher-risk” workplaces. Additional recommendations for higher-risk workplaces include the following:

  • Staggering break times or providing temporary break areas and restrooms to prevent groups of unvaccinated or other at-risk workers from congregating during breaks and ensuring that employees always maintain distances from others of at least 6 feet, including on breaks;
  • Staggering workers' arrival and departure times to prevent groups of unvaccinated or at-risk workers from congregating in parking areas or locker rooms or near time clocks;
  • Using visual cues such as floor markings and signs as reminders to maintain physical distancing;
  • In areas of substantial or high community transmission, requiring fully vaccinated, unvaccinated, and at-risk workers to wear masks whenever possible and considering requiring visitors to do the same; and
  • Implementing strategies, appropriate to the specific workplace, to improve ventilation.

For employer-provided transportation in buses and vans, OSHA recommends notifying unvaccinated and at-risk workers of infection risks, ensuring they wear face coverings, and limiting the number of passengers. In areas of substantial or high risk of transmission, the agency suggests that all workers wear face coverings. OSHA also encouraged opening vehicle windows when weather conditions permit.

For assembly-line agricultural operations; manufacturing; and meat, poultry, and seafood processing facilities, OSHA recommended ensuring adequate ventilation or moving work outside, if possible; spacing workers out; and using solid, impermeable barriers where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

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