On January 21, 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order expressing clear wishes that OSHA provide more guidance for employers to use in their efforts to keep workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. OSHA promptly responded with the publication of “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace,” offering updated standards and tips for restructuring COVID-19 prevention programs and COVID-19 initiatives across various industries and work environments.
Specifically, the presented insights were intended to help employers better identify and avoid hazards that could result in workforce exposure to the virus. Seeing as this information could directly influence the safety and health of your employees, it is important you study it for its compliance implications, as well.
OSHA has offered 16 elements to focus on as you adapt your COVID prevention efforts. Let’s take a closer look at the new information available and how to put it to use today!
Overview of New COVID-19 OSHA Guidance
OSHA’s guide suggestions may be “advisory” and not create new legal obligation directly, but ignoring them could risk increased exposure to operational setbacks, OSHA citations, and costly penalties for violating the OSHA general duties clause.
The executive order by the Biden Administration suggests that there will be an increase in overall OSHA enforcement moving forward, so your business should not wait to prepare. If OSHA determines that emergency federal standards are necessary, they are expected to be published by March 15, 2021.
Which OSHA COVID-19 Element Should You Focus On?
Although some of these requirements and standards are likely already part of your regular operating procedures, ongoing maintenance of your established protocols is just as important for protecting your business. For a full breakdown of all 16 items, visit the guide on OSHA’s site by clicking here.
Here are some of the notable elements and updates to consider as you read the full guide:
- Developing a Complete Prevention Program: OSHA has expanded its advice on the designation of a team or workplace coordinator for overseeing your COVID-related issues, as well as your active COVID-19 prevention program and facility requirements, how to conduct hazard assessments, and all related measures for limiting the spread of the coronavirus by or within your facility.
- Vaccines: While the guide does not mandate vaccines by your business, it does encourage you to have employees seek vaccinations with the inclusion of the following statement in your written policies: “A COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series will be made available, free-of-charge, to all eligible employees. We will provide information and training on the benefits and safety of vaccinations.”
- Prioritizing High Risk Employees Compliantly: OSHA’s guidance suggests offering modifications to the working conditions of high-risk individuals, including employees who are 65 and older. However, it stresses that you must carefully consider how to navigate communication about the accommodations. Failure to offer adjustments could expose you to OSHA citations, while EEOC laws condemning disability and age discrimination could create their own complications.
- Managing State Laws: Employers (particularly those operating with distributed workforces in multiple states) should be mindful of differing state requirements and how they will affect your operation. For example, for the length of isolation and quarantine for symptomatic/infected employees will be critical to keep track of.
- PPE/Face Coverings: Guidance on providing your employees complimentary face coverings has also been clarified. Face coverings with exhalation valves or vents should no longer be allowed since they do not conform to the guidance. OSHA also stresses that those who have received vaccines should continue the same mask protocol as before getting the vaccine!
- Contractors and Staffing Companies: OSHA has taken an industry-specific approach and addressed the unique COVID-19 exposure obstacles faced by contractors and staffing agencies. Their guide discusses the ways joint employer can minimize risk and share safety requirements and restrictions between all relevant parties, primarily by way of communication policies.
- Employee Complaints and Participation: OSHA emphasizes that employee input is a central ingredient in an effective COVID-19 prevention program. This includes establishing communication methods and pandemic training in multiple languages, as well as encouraging employees to express their concerns about COVID-19 safety. Providing a non-retaliatory avenue for employees to raise concerns (like anonymous reporting) will increase the safety of your operation and lessen the chances of OSHA getting involved directly. *This is particularly important for unionized employers.
HR Support Through COVID-19
Your HR software should make it easier to carry out COVID-related initiatives, not harder. Because EPAY’s HCM system is designed for the hourly, distributed workforce, it provides many powerful tools for employers managing scattered workers, like touchless time-collection solutions and a robust online learning management system (with access to OSHA and COVID safety courses).