OSHA Updates COVID-19 Safety Guidance for All Industries
On August 13, 2021, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its COVID-19 guidance documents for employers in all industries. The new recommendations echo those published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on July 27, 2021, and build upon OSHA’s healthcare industry requirements.
In some of its most powerful language yet (and stopping just short of an absolute requirement), OSHA “strongly encourages” employers to provide paid time off to workers for the time it takes for them to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects.
Employers should consider working with local public health authorities to provide vaccinations for unvaccinated workers in the workplace. Employers should also consider adopting policies that require workers to get vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing—in addition to mask wearing and physical distancing—if workers remain unvaccinated.
Fully vaccinated workers in areas of substantial or high community transmission should wear masks in order to protect unvaccinated workers.
Fully vaccinated workers who have close contact with people with COVID-19 should wear masks for up to 14 days, unless they have a negative COVID-19 test at least three-to-five days after this contact.
OSHA also described manufacturing; meat, seafood and poultry processing; high-volume retail and grocery; and agricultural processing settings as “higher-risk workplaces.” The agency reorganized some of its COVID-19 guidance materials to clarify the recommendations that apply to these workplaces, including issues surrounding:
Carpooling and busing
Ventilation in high-density workplaces
Customer-facing roles and stockroom roles
As it has done previously, OSHA continued to emphasize that employee vaccination is the best way to protect employees from COVID-19. OSHA’s top priority appears to remain focused on protecting unvaccinated workers and those who are immunocompromised (regardless of vaccination status).
OSHA also reaffirmed that it continues to assess the necessity and applicability of the June 21, 2021, Emergency Temporary Standard for healthcare employers.