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March 04, 2022
OSHA will issue new COVID-19 guidance

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will issue updated employer guidance for controlling workplace COVID-19 exposures as part of a new White House National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, announced March 2.

The updated guidance will address COVID-19-related workplace health issues that include:

  • Employer promotion of and support for employee vaccinations and boosters;
  • Accommodations for immunocompromised employees who choose to wear high-quality, protective masks;
  • Control measures to limit workplace-based infections; and
  • Enhancements to workplace ventilation.

The four goals of President Joe Biden’s plan are to protect against and treat COVID-19, prepare for new variants, prevent economic and educational shutdowns, and continue vaccinating the world.

Some elements of the plan already are in place. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a framework of masking recommendations based on levels of COVID-19 transmission at the county level.

Moreover, the White House announced continued support for the production of COVID-19 test kits and maintaining a stockpile of at-home test kits, antiviral medications, and masks.

The plan also includes maintaining a stockpile of hospital supplies such as gloves, gowns, masks, ventilators, and other hospital equipment to deploy during outbreaks, surges, or new variants.

The White House plans to establish “One-Stop Test to Treat” locations at pharmacy-based clinics, community health centers, long-term care facilities, and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities where Americans can obtain COVID-19 testing and treatment.

The White House also announced plans for legislation reinstating tax credits to help small and midsize businesses provide paid sick and family leave for COVID-related absences.

OSHA’s pandemic guidance, enforcement

On June 10, 2021, OSHA updated its “Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace,” which was first issued January 29, 2021. The June 2021 guidance recommended that employers:

  • Grant time off for employees to get vaccinated.
  • Maintain physical distancing, and provide surgical masks or other face coverings.
  • Implement the CDC’s building ventilation recommendations (based on the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ (ASHRAE) Guidance for Building Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic).
  • Perform routine workplace cleaning and disinfection.
  • Instruct infected employees and those who have had close contact with an infected individual to stay home.

On June 21, 2021, OSHA issued an industry-specific COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS) for healthcare and healthcare support services employers. The agency has since withdrawn all but the recordkeeping requirements of the healthcare ETS.

However, the agency plans to develop a permanent healthcare COVID-19 standard, as well as an infectious disease standard for exposures to measles, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), pandemic influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), tuberculosis (TB), and varicella disease (chickenpox, shingles).

The infectious disease standard also would apply to coroners’ offices, correctional facilities, drug treatment programs, emergency response, homeless shelters, medical examiners, medical laboratories, pathologists, and mortuaries.

On November 5, 2021, OSHA issued an ETS requiring employers with 100 or more employees to implement a program of COVID-19 vaccination or regular testing. On January 13, the Supreme Court issued a stay of the emergency rule, and OSHA subsequently withdrew the ETS.

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