OSHA Releases New Coronavirus Protection Guidance

On Jan. 29, OSHA announced that it is issuing stronger worker safety guidance to help employers and workers implement a coronavirus prevention program and to better identify risks that could lead to exposure and contraction of the virus.

The guidance document, “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace,” was triggered by President Joe Biden’s directive for OSHA to release clear guidance for employers to help keep their workers safe. The paper provides updated guidance and recommendations and outlines existing safety and health standards.

“More than 400,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and millions of people are out of work as a result of this crisis,” said M. Patricia Smith, senior counselor to the secretary of labor, which governs OSHA. “Employers and workers can help our nation fight and overcome this deadly pandemic by committing themselves to making their workplaces as safe as possible. The recommendations in OSHA’s updated guidance will help us defeat this virus, strengthen our economy, and bring an end to the staggering human and economic toll to that coronavirus has taken on our nation.”

“OSHA is updating its guidance to reduce the risk of transmission of the coronavirus and improve workers protections so businesses can operate safely and employees can stay safe and working,” said Jim Frederick, OSHA’s principal deputy assistant secretary for occupational safety and health.

The guidance provides details on key measures for limiting the spread of coronavirus, including ensuring that infected or potentially infected people are not in the workplace, implementing and following physical distancing protocols and using surgical masks or cloth face coverings. The document also provides guidance on measures such as the use of personal protective equipment, improving ventilation, maintaining good hygiene and routine cleaning.

The document recommends a number of comprehensive elements that OSHA considers essential to creating an effective prevention program:

  • Conduct a hazard assessment.
  • Identify control measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Implement policies for employee absences that do not punish workers, which will encourage potentially infected workers to remain home.
  • Ensure that COVID-19 policies and procedures are communicated to both English-speaking and non-English-speaking workers.
  • Adopt policies that protect workers from retaliation if they raise coronavirus-related concerns.

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