How Businesses can Protect Unvaccinated and At Risk Employees from COVID 19 Exposure 980x758 1

Just when we thought the US vaccination rates were helping businesses head in the direction of “full capacity” and “back to normal,” guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued June 10 has shed light on new exposure risks. The Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) guidance is aimed directly at protecting “unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk” employees by assisting in identifying COVID-19 exposure risks so that exposure and infection in the workplace can be prevented.

We recommend employers carefully review the guidance to determine any appropriate control measures to implement. Here are the key guidelines to protect your workforce:

  • Grant paid time off for employees to get vaccinated. See more about EMPLOYER INCENTIVE | Tax Credits Available for Businesses Supporting Employee Coronavirus Vaccinations. Also, EMPLOYER GUIDANCE | COVID-19 Vaccination Checklist for Businesses
  • Instruct any unvaccinated workers who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and all workers with COVID-19 symptoms, to stay home from work to prevent or reduce the risk of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.
  • Implement physical distancing for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in all communal work areas.
  • Provide unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers with face coverings or surgical masks unless their work task requires a respirator or other PPE. Employers should provide face coverings at no cost. OSHA also states that employers should suggest that unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests wear face coverings.
  • Educate and train workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in a language they understand. Communications should be in plain language that unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers understand (including non-English languages, and American Sign Language or other accessible communication methods, if applicable) and in a manner accessible to individuals with disabilities. Training should include:
  1. Basic facts about COVID-19, including how it is spread and the importance of physical distancing (including remote work), ventilation, vaccination, use of face coverings, and hand hygiene.
  2. Workplace policies and procedures implemented to protect workers from COVID-19 hazards.
  • Maintain ventilation systems according to the CDC’s Ventilation in Buildings and in the OSHA Alert: COVID-19 Guidance on Ventilation in the Workplace. These recommendations are based on ASHRAE Guidance for Building Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • Perform routine cleaning and disinfection and follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations and OSHA’s mandatory standards 29 CFR 1910.1200 and 1910.132, 133, and 138 for hazard communication and PPE appropriate for exposure to cleaning chemicals.
  • Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths: Under mandatory OSHA rules in 29 CFR 1904, employers are responsible for recording work-related cases of COVID-19 illness on OSHA’s Form 300 logs if the following requirements are met: (1) the case is a confirmed case of COVID-19; (2) the case is work-related (as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5); and (3) the case involves one or more relevant recording criteria (set forth in 29 CFR 1904.7) (e.g., medical treatment, days away from work). Employers must follow the requirements in 29 CFR 1904 when reporting COVID-19 fatalities and hospitalizations to OSHA.

Here are specific measures OSHA states are appropriate for higher-risk workplaces with mixed-vaccination status workers:

OSHA’s guidance specifically identifies additional measures businesses should take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in higher-risk workplaces. Higher-risk workplaces include manufacturing, meat and poultry processing, high-volume retail and grocery, and seafood processing, given the potential for workers to work indoors and in close contact for extended durations (e.g., for eight to 12 hours per shift).

  • Stagger break times in these generally high-population workplaces, or provide temporary break areas and restrooms to avoid groups of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers congregating during breaks.
  • Unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers should maintain at least six feet of distance from others at all times, including on breaks.
  • Stagger workers’ arrival and departure times to avoid congregations of unvaccinated or those otherwise at-risk in parking areas, locker rooms, and near time clocks.
  • Provide visual cues (e.g., floor markings, signs) as a reminder to maintain physical distancing.
  • Implement workplace-specific strategies to improve ventilation that protects workers as outlined in CDC’s Ventilation in Buildings and in the OSHA Alert: COVID-19 Guidance on Ventilation in the workplace.

Bottom line…If you have relaxed COVID safety policy or your current measures don’t adequately protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers, you should act immediately to ensure compliance.

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