Even in the best of times, compromised safety in the workplace is often a root cause of the failure of many businesses. Risk Management should always be a major consideration of the leadership of any company.
A huge backstop to protect a business when accidental injury or illness occurs is Workers’ Compensation insurance. Rates charged by insurance companies are impacted by the safety issues of each company and its compliance with OSHA guidelines, even when not mandatory. Mandatory OSHA standards include requirements for PPE, respiratory protection, sanitization, protection from bloodborne pathogens, and OSHA’s requirements for employee access to medical and exposure records.
To combat the latest Coronavirus Delta variant surge, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued updated workplace guidance that heavily aligns with the latest COVID-19 guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We believe a critical step in workplace safety is to keep up to date with the latest guidelines.
Updated OSHA Recommendations for Employers:
- Implement methods to facilitate and encourage employee vaccination.
OSHA recommends providing employees with paid time off to get vaccinated and paid time off to recover from any ill side effects of the vaccine. OSHA also suggests employers consider adopting policies requiring workers to get vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing – in addition to mask wearing and physical distancing if they remain unvaccinated.
- Instruct infected workers, unvaccinated workers who have had close contact with a positive COVID-19 case, and all workers with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home from work.
Fully vaccinated individuals who have a known COVID-19 exposure should get tested three to five days after the exposure event and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days (or until they receive a negative test result). Individuals who are not fully vaccinated should be tested immediately, and if negative, tested again in five to seven days after their last exposure (or immediately if symptoms develop). OSHA expects all absentee policies to be non-punitive and that employers will promptly eliminate policies that might encourage workers to come to work sick.
- Implement physical distancing in all common areas where unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers may be present.
OSHA believes a key way to protect workers is to require physical distancing in the workplace – generally this means at least six feet. However, as workplace conditions may require employees to work close to one another and/or customers for extended periods of time, employers may consider limiting the number of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk employees in one place at any given time. Employers should consider transparent barriers, flexible schedules, allow remote/telework, rotate/stagger shifts, deliver services remotely (e.g., phone, video, or web).
- Provide workers no-cost face coverings or surgical masks as appropriate.
OSHA’s guidance mirrors that of the CDC by recommending even fully vaccinated individuals wear masks in public indoor settings, noting that fully vaccinated people may desire to wear masks in public indoor settings regardless of a community’s level of transmission. OSHA reiterates that workers should wear a face covering that covers both the nose and mouth. Workers who are outdoors may opt not to wear face coverings unless they are at risk. Regardless, employers should support employees who continue to wear a face covering, especially when working closely with others.
- Educate and train workers on their COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in languages they understand. Employers should train managers on how to implement their COVID-19 policies.
Training should include 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, hand hygiene, and workplace policies and procedures to protect workers from COVID-19 hazards. In addition, employers should implement a means of tracking which (and when) workers receive this information.
- Suggest or require unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests to wear face coverings in public-facing workplaces, such as retail establishments.
All customers, visitors, or guests should wear face coverings in public, indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. This could include posting a notice or otherwise suggesting or requiring individuals wear face coverings, even if no longer required by your jurisdiction.
- Maintain workplace ventilation systems.
As COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors, improving and maintaining ventilation systems are key points of control. A maintenance program can be used as part of a layered strategy to reduce the concentration of viral particles in indoor air (and consequently reduce the risk of transmission to unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in particular). Key measures include ensuring HVAC systems are operating in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications, conducting regularly scheduled inspections and maintenance, maximizing the amount of outside air supplied, installing air filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of 13 or higher where feasible.
- Perform routine cleaning and disinfection.
This is especially important if someone who has been in the facility within 24 hours is suspected of having COVID-19 or is a confirmed COVID-19 case. In those situations, OSHA recommends following the CDC’s cleaning and disinfection recommendations.
- Record and report workplace COVID-19 infections and deaths.
Under OSHA’s recordkeeping standard, employers are required to record 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; and (3) the case involves one or more relevant recording criteria (e.g., medical treatment, days away from work). Likewise, employers must follow the requirements when reporting work-related COVID-19 fatalities and hospitalizations.
- Employers should implement protections from retaliation and set up anonymous methods for workers to raise concerns about COVID-19-related hazards.
Employers should ensure workers know whom to contact with questions and/or concerns about workplace safety and health, and that there are prohibitions against retaliation for raising workplace safety and health concerns or engaging in other protected occupational safety and health activities. This could be accomplished by using an employee hotline or other method for workers to voice concerns anonymously.
If you are unfamiliar with the world of workplace safety and need more information, Employer Advantage is here to help keep your business safe.
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