OSHA recently released updated guidance for employers to protect unvaccinated workers in non-healthcare-related industries. Many healthcare workplaces are covered under the mandatory OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard. These updated guidelines place special emphasis on industries that are noted for prolonged close-contacts including meat processing, manufacturing, seafood, and grocery and high-volume retail:
- In workplaces (or well-defined work areas) with processing or assembly lines where there are unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers.
- In retail workplaces (or well-defined work areas within retail) where there are unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers.
- Unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers are also at risk when traveling to and from work in employer-provided buses and vans.
Vaccines authorized by the U.S. FDA are highly effective at protecting most fully vaccinated people against symptomatic and severe COVID-19. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) encourages employers to empower employees to receive the vaccination. However, to protect workers who are unvaccinated or who are otherwise at-risk, OSHA recommends implementing multi-layered interventions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
OSHA’s recommended steps include:
- Grant paid time off Empower employees to get vaccinated by offering paid time off. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees may be eligible for tax credits under the American Rescue Plan if they provide paid time off for employees who decide to receive the vaccine and to recover from any potential side effects from the vaccine.
- Stay home Unvaccinated employees should stay home if they show symptoms of or have tested positive for COVID-19, or have been in close contact with someone who is infected.
- Maintain a distance of 6’ apart Limit the number of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in one space at any time. Some ways to implement this include flexible worksites (e.g., telework); 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, all for such workers.
- Create barriers in tight workspaces Install transparent shields or solid barriers in between people unable to be 6’ apart.
- Require face coverings Provide face coverings, masks or PPE that covers nose and mouth at no cost to employees, guests, customers and visitors. If PPE is required, employers must provide the necessary equipment. Unless otherwise mandated by federal, state, or local requirements, unvaccinate workers who are outdoors may opt not to wear face coverings unless they are at-risk.
- Accessible education/training Provide adequate education and training with Covid-19 facts and relevant workplace policies. Offer an anonymous process for workers to express concerns.
- Maintain the workspace Maintain ventilation systems to provide the cleanest airflow. Perform routine cleaning and disinfecting. If someone shows symptoms or has been diagnosed with COVID-19 has been in the facility within 24 hours, follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations.
All of OSHA's mandatory standards that apply to protecting workers from infection remain in place, including:
- Requirements for PPE (29 CFR 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)
- OSHA's requirements for employee access to medical and exposure records (29 CFR 1910.1020)
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