On January 29th, 2021, the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced new workplace guidance on COVID-19. The safety guidance helps employers to implement a coronavirus prevention program and better identify workplace exposure and contraction risks. Last week, in an Executive Order, President Joseph R. Biden directed OSHA to release employer guidance to prevent workplace COVID-19 exposure. Accordingly, OSHA created this guidance.

Overview of the Guidance

The latest OSHA release provides updated guidance and recommendations and outlines existing safety and health standards. According to OSHA, the recommendations are being provided to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace.

One of the most important parts of the guidance is the subject of coronavirus prevention programs. According to the agency, these programs are the most effective way to reduce the spread of the virus. In fact, the OSHA guidance recommends several essential elements in a prevention program:

  • Conduct a hazard assessment.
  • Identify control measures to limit the spread of the virus.
  • Adopt policies for employee absences that don’t punish workers as a way to encourage potentially infected workers to remain home.
  • Ensure that coronavirus policies and procedures are understandable for both English and non-English speaking workers.
  • Implement protections from retaliation for workers who raise coronavirus-related concerns.

The guidance also includes measures for limiting the coronavirus’s spread, including:

  • ensuring infected or potentially infected people are not in the workplace;
  • implementing and following physical distancing protocols;
  • utilizing surgical masks or cloth face coverings;
  • properly using personal protective equipment;
  • improving ventilation;
  • encouraging good hygiene; and
  • performing routine cleaning.

 Employer Takeaways

In conclusion, employers should know that this guidance is not a standard or regulation. Therefore, it creates no new legal obligations. It only contains recommendations as well as descriptions of existing mandatory safety and health standards. In summary, the recommendations are advisory in nature, informational in content, and will assist employers in recognizing and abating hazards. It is important to note, however, that under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, employers are generally responsible for providing safe workplaces. Failure to comply with the Clause could lead to fines and penalties.