OSHA has released new guidance designed to help employers protect workers who are unvaccinated (including people who are not fully vaccinated) or otherwise at-risk, or immunocompromised. The guidance is also geared towards protecting workers who are fully vaccinated but located in areas of substantial or high community transmission. This includes Nevada.
We’ve summarized the mandatory OSHA standards below but we encourage you to visit the source.
Under the OSH Act, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
CDC’s Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People explains that under some circumstances, fully vaccinated people need not take all the precautions that unvaccinated people should take, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. However, in light of evidence related to the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the CDC updated its guidance to recommend that even people who are fully vaccinated wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission, or if they have had a known exposure to someone with COVID-19 and have not had a subsequent negative test 3-5 days after the last date of that exposure.
Employers should engage with workers and their representatives to determine how to implement multi-layered interventions to protect unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including:
- Facilitate employees getting vaccinated. Employers should grant paid time off for employees to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects.
- Instruct any workers who are infected, 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. As recommended by the CDC, fully vaccinated people who have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should get tested 3-5 days after exposure and should wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result. People who are not fully vaccinated should be tested immediately after being identified, and, if negative, tested again in 5–7 days after last exposure or immediately if symptoms develop during quarantine. Ensure that absence policies are non-punitive.
- Implement physical distancing in all communal work areas for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers. A key way to protect such workers is to physically distance them from other such people (workers or customers) – generally at least 6 feet of distance is recommended, although this is not a guarantee of safety, especially in enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces. In a workplace, workers often are required to work in close proximity to each other and/or customers or clients for extended periods of time. Maintaining physical distancing at the workplace for such workers is an important control to limit the spread of COVID-19. Employers could also limit the number of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in one place at any given time, for example by implementing flexible worksites (e.g., telework); implementing flexible work hours (e.g., rotate or stagger shifts to limit the number of such workers in the workplace at the same time); delivering services remotely (e.g., phone, video, or web); or implementing flexible meeting and travel options, for such workers.
- Provide workers with face coverings or surgical masks,4 as appropriate, unless their work task requires a respirator or other PPE. In addition to unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers, CDC recommends that even fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission and notes that fully vaccinated people may appropriately choose to wear masks in public indoor settings regardless of community level of transmission, particularly if they are at risk or have someone in their household who is at risk or not fully vaccinated.
- Educate and train workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in languages they understand. Train managers on how to implement COVID-19 policies. Communicate supportive workplace policies clearly, frequently, and via multiple methods to promote a safe and healthy workplace. 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.
- Suggest or require that unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests wear face coverings in public-facing workplaces such as retail establishments, and that all customers, visitors, or guests 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 that people wear face coverings, even if no longer required by your jurisdiction.
- Maintain Ventilation Systems. The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads between people more readily indoors than outdoors. Improving ventilation is a key engineering control that can be used as part of a layered strategy to reduce the concentration of viral particles in indoor air and the risk of virus transmission to unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in particular.
- Perform routine cleaning and disinfection. If someone who has been in the facility within 24 hours is suspected of having or confirmed to have COVID-19, follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations.
- Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths: Under mandatory OSHA rules in 29 CFR part 1904, 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 (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 part 1904 when reporting COVID-19 fatalities and hospitalizations to OSHA. More information is available on OSHA’s website.
- Implement protections from retaliation and set up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards: Section 11(c) of the OSH Act prohibits discharging or in any other way discriminating against an employee for engaging in various occupational safety and health activities.
- Follow other applicable mandatory OSHA standards: All of OSHA’s standards that apply to protecting workers from infection remain in place. These mandatory OSHA standards include: requirements for PPE (29 CFR part 1910, Subpart I (e.g., 1910.132 and 133)), respiratory protection (29 CFR 1910.134), sanitation (29 CFR 1910.141), protection from bloodborne pathogens: (29 CFR 1910.1030), and OSHA’s requirements for employee access to medical and exposure records (29 CFR 1910.1020).
Note: The list above is a summary. For more, visit: https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework
Even if your employer does not have a COVID-19 prevention program, if you are unvaccinated or otherwise at risk, you can help protect yourself by following the steps listed below:
- You should get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can. Ask your employer about opportunities for paid leave, if necessary, to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects.
- Properly wear a face covering over your nose and mouth.
- Individuals are encouraged to choose higher quality masks so that they are providing a greater measure of protection to themselves as well as those around them. CDC provides general guidance on masks, including face coverings.
- If you are working outdoors, you may opt not to wear face coverings in many circumstances; however, your employer should support you in safely continuing to wear a face covering if you choose, especially if you work closely with other people.
- Unless you are fully vaccinated and not otherwise at-risk, stay far enough away from other people so that you are not breathing in particles produced by them – generally at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths), although this approach by itself is not a guarantee that you will avoid infection, especially in enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces.
- Ask your employer about possible telework and flexible schedule options at your workplace, and take advantage of such policies if possible. Perform work tasks, hold meetings, and take breaks outdoors when possible.
- Participate in any training offered by your employer/building manager to learn how rooms are ventilated effectively, encourage your employer to provide such training if it does not already exist, and notify the building manager if you see vents that are clogged, dirty, or blocked by furniture or equipment.
- Practice good personal hygiene and wash your hands often. Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, or the inside of your elbow, when you cough or sneeze, and do not spit.
- Monitor your health daily and be alert for COVID-19 symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, or shortness of breath). See CDC’s Daily Activities and Going Out and CDC’s Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People.
- Get tested regularly, especially in areas of substantial or high community transmission.
For the full scope of guidelines and requirements visit: https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework
OSHA Violations, Citations, and Fines for 2021
OSHA has processed a lot of COVID-19 related fines to companies failing to provide adequate means of safety for employees in the workplace. Don’t be one of them. Protect your business and your employees by regularly auditing your workplace environment and your policies and procedures. For assistance, contact the experts at HRinDemand, your total people solution.
Melissa Marsh, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is a human resources consultant and founder of HRinDemand, a human resources company in Reno, NV, offering expert guidance and easy-to-use tools to help small businesses with employment regulations, compliance, employee relations, and company growth.