OSHA Issues Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace

On January 29, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published updated guidance intended to provide strategies for non-healthcare employers and workers to identify risks of being exposed to and/or contracting COVID-19 at work and to help them determine appropriate control measures to implement. While most of the guidance is not new, it provides some new recommendations employers may want to consider adding to their current COVID-19 protocols.

OSHA states that implementing a coronavirus protection program is the most effective way to reduce the spread of the virus. The guidance recommends including the following key elements in a prevention program:

  • Conduct a hazard assessment.
  • Identify control measures to limit the spread of the virus.
  • Adopt policies for employee absences that don't punish workers.
  • Ensure that coronavirus policies and procedures are communicated to both English- and non-English-speaking workers.
  • Implement protections from retaliation for workers who raise coronavirus-related concerns.

In addition, the guidance provides additional detail on key measures for limiting the spread of COVID-19, including separating and sending home infected or potentially infected people from the workplace, implementing social distancing, installing barriers where physical distancing cannot be maintained, and suppressing the spread by using face coverings. It also provides guidance on use of personal protective equipment, improving ventilation, providing supplies for good hygiene and routine cleaning and disinfection.

Further, OSHA recommends that employers provide all workers with face coverings at no cost for use in the workplace with limited exception and unless their work tasks require a respirator. The guidance indicates that employers must discuss the possibility of reasonable accommodation for any workers who are unable to wear or have difficulty wearing face coverings due to a disability. In addition, in workplaces with employees who are hard of hearing, employers should consider acquiring masks with clear coverings over the mouth for all workers to facilitate lip-reading.

OSHA recommends that employers require all other individuals at the workplace over the age of two, such as visitors or customers, to wear face coverings. For operations where the face covering worn by workers can become wet and soiled, employers should provide workers with replacements daily or more frequently.

The guidance states that it is advisory and informational and intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace and therefore, it is not mandatory. Nevertheless, the general-duty clause, as the guidance notes, requires employers to protect their employees from recognized hazards and COVID-19 clearly is a recognized hazard. Thus, as employers should take every measure to address the hazard and to protect its employees adequately, adherence to this new guidance is recommended.

Employers should review the guidance in its entirety, which can be found here. The guidance provides all employers an important opportunity to review your COVID-19 prevention program and consider adopting additional elements to align with OSHA recommendations. Should you need any assistance in implementing, reviewing and/or updating your company’s COVID-19 prevention policy or have any questions regarding OSHA’s updated guidance, please contact ALG.