Stronger COVID-19 Workplace Safety Guidance Issued for Employers

January 29, 2021

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued stronger worker safety guidance today “to help employers and workers implement a coronavirus protection program and better identify risks which could lead to exposure and contraction.”  The guidance is not a standard or regulation, “and creates no new legal obligations.”

COVID-19 Prevention Programs:  The guidance strongly recommends that employers implement comprehensive COVID-19 prevention programs including the following elements, among others: 

  • Assignment of a workplace coordinator responsible for COVID-19 issues; 

  • Identification of where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace;

  • Identifying a combination of measures that limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace;

  • Protections for higher-risk employees;

  • Adopting measures to ensure workers exposed to COVID-19 are excluded from the workplace; 

  • Establishing a system for communicating effectively with workers regarding COVID-19 issues; and

  • Implementing retaliation protections for workers raising COVID-19-related concerns.

The guidance states that “the most effective programs engage workers and their union or other representatives in the program’s development.”

The guidance also suggests employers implement physical distancing and face covering protocols, as well as other infection control protocols related to isolating COVID-19-exposed employees.  These recommendations are largely similar to the CDC’s guidance for employers that has been available throughout the pandemic.

Outlook:  The new guidance comes on the heels of President Biden’s directive to OSHA to release new workplace safety guidelines, and does not contain any novel approaches to COVID-19 workplace safety nor impose any new burdens on employers.  However, employers should be aware that the guidance is merely the first in a series of new actions expected from OSHA regarding workplace safety, including an eventual COVID-19 workplace safety standard and a significant uptick in enforcement actions.