Friday, June 11, 2021

Coronavirus Update 6-11-2021: OSHA’s long-awaited COVID-19 safety rule is a big bowl of … meh

Today is the 15-month anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. All that employers have asked of OSHA during the past year and a quarter is some clear guidance on the rules and expectations to keep employees healthy and safe. Yesterday, OSHA finally complied … sort of. 

The agency issued an emergency rule that sets workplace safety parameters for employers for the remainder of the pandemic. Critically, however, it only applies to health-care employers. (Does this apply to you? OSHA published this not-so-handy flowchart to help you out.) With a few exceptions for workplaces in which all employees are fully vaccinated and which bar anyone who may have COVID-19, health-care employers must maintain social distancing protocols, provide and ensure that workers wear appropriate face masks while at work, and give workers paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from vaccine side effects, among other provisions. OHSA even published this handy screening questionnaire, which I drafted for my clients 15 month ago.

For all other employers, OSHA updated its voluntary guidelines to focus primarily on protections for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers. These updates largely track the CDC's updated guidelines for the fully vaccinated

Except for workplace settings covered by OSHA's ETS [for health-care employers] and mask requirements for public transportation, most employers no longer need to take steps to protect their workers from COVID-19 exposure in any workplace, or well-defined portions of a workplace, where all employees are fully vaccinated. Employers should still take steps to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in their workplaces, or well-defined portions of workplaces.

What are these steps that OSHA says employers should be taking?

  1. Grant paid time off for employees to get vaccinated.
  2. Instruct any workers who are infected, unvaccinated workers who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, and all workers with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home from work.
  3. Implement physical distancing for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in all communal work areas.
  4. Provide unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers with face coverings or surgical masks, unless their work task requires a respirator or other PPE.
  5. Educate and train workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in language they understand.
  6. Suggest that unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests wear face coverings.
  7. Maintain ventilation systems.
  8. Perform routine cleaning and disinfection.
  9. Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths.
  10. Implement protections from retaliation and set up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards.
  11. Follow other applicable mandatory OSHA standards. 

Way to get in the game, OSHA! Employers needed guidance in June 2020 (if not sooner), not June 2021. What employers aren't doing these things already? So OSHA, thanks for playing, but I give this news big old … meh. Maybe you'll be quicker to act with the next pandemic. But probably not. Who am I kidding?