On January 29, 2021 OSHA released guidance to help employers and employees identify risks related to exposure to and contracting of COVID-19 at work. This guidance is intended to apply to most workplace settings, but specifically does not apply to healthcare or emergency response settings/workplaces. The guidance contains recommendations that are advisory in nature and informational in content, as well as reiterating mandatory safety and health standards. It does not create new obligations or new standards to help employers comply with their obligations to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards.

Information for Workers

OSHA reminds workers and employees of the importance of social distancing, good hygiene, and wearing appropriate masks and face coverings even if asymptomatic. Workers should also quarantine if they have been exposed to COVID-19. “Exposed to COVID-19” means the occurrence of any of the following:

  • A worker was within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes within a 24-hour period,
  • A worker provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19,
  • A worker had direct physical contact with a person who has COVID-19,
  • A worker shared eating or drinking utensils with a person who has COVID-19, or
  • Someone who has COVID-19 sneezed, coughed, or somehow got respiratory droplets on a worker.

Local health authorities determine quarantine options.

Role of the Employer

OSHA recommends that employers create a workplace COVID-19 prevention program, one which engages with workers or their representatives and includes the following elements:

  • Identifying a workplace coordinator responsible for COVID-19 issues on the employer’s behalf.
  • Identification of a combination of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 such as sending home potentially infected people, implementing physical distancing, installing physical barriers in communal areas, improving ventilation, and requiring and providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings.
  • Paying extra attention to protections for workers at higher risks for severe illness such as older adults or workers with underlying medical conditions or disabilities.
  • Establishing a system for communicating effectively with workers, emphasizing two-way communication between employers and workers to discuss COVID-19 symptoms, possible exposures and hazards, and plans and responses to the same.
  • Train workers on COVID-19 policies and basic facts about COVID-19; and employers should ensure that workers understand their rights to a safe work environment, and track which workers have been informed and when.
  • Instruct workers who are infected or potentially infected to stay home and quarantine with non-punitive absence policies.
  • Minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on workers by allowing telework, staggered shifts, or work in isolated areas when possible, as well as allowing paid sick leave whenever possible. As a reminder, recent federal legislation allows employers to receive tax credits for the now-optional Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency FMLA programs started by the FFCRA, through March 31, 2021.
  • Isolating workers who show or develop symptoms at work immediately upon development of said symptoms.
  • Performing enhanced cleaning and disinfection after people with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been in the facility, including closing relevant areas to employees, opening outside doors or windows when able, waiting as long as practicable before cleaning or disinfecting, and cleaning and disinfecting all immediate work areas and equipment used by the potentially infected person.
  • Providing guidance on screening and testing in accordance with guidance from local or state-level officials.
  • Recording and reporting confirmed, work-related COVID-19 infections if they result in death, days away from work, work restrictions or transfer, medical treatment beyond first aid, loss of consciousness, or significant injury as required on OSHA Form 300 logs.
  • Setting up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards and ensuring workers are not retaliated against for voicing concerns.
  • Making a COVID-19 vaccine available at no cost to all eligible employees, and providing information and training on the benefits and safety of vaccinations.
  • Not distinguishing between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not. As it is currently unknown whether the COVID-19 vaccines actually prevent transmission of the virus, all workers even those vaccinated, must continue to abide by company policies regarding face coverings, PPE, and safe distancing.
  • Abiding by all other OSHA standards that apply to protection from infection.

Dane County Rules

As a reminder, Dane County also has rules that apply to all general businesses, many of which are very similar to the OSHA guidance. Employers must develop written policies to address hygiene expectations and ensure that symptomatic employees cannot work, guidelines to clean and disinfect workspaces and common areas, and to maintain social distancing of both workers and customers and that workers and customers wear face covers or masks. Dane County rules also encourage employers to, to the greatest extent possible, allow teleworking, stagger shifts, and hold meetings online. Dane County, however, imposes a 50% capacity limit on businesses. Dane County also requires signage, available at Public Health Madison & Dane County.

For more information about OSHA recommendations or Dane County requirements, contact Kramer, Elkins & Watt, LLC.

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