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COVID-19 has created a renewed emphasis on workplace safety and the role of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It is more important than ever that businesses understand their obligations to employee wellbeing and how to remain compliant with OSHA regulations.

OSHA Standards

When COVID-19 first started sweeping the United States and affecting workplaces, one of the first questions asked was whether there were any rules and regulations under OSHA for employers to follow. The answer is yes; there are relevant OSHA regulations, including:

The general duty clause is the catch-all standard that applies to all companies. Under that standard, employers must provide work and a workplace that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

To prevent such conditions that would violate the general duty clause, OSHA published a guide for employers. Steps to reduce worker exposure to COVID-19 include:

  • Develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan (include sources of risk for worker exposure and the controls necessary to address them)
  • Implement Basic Infection Prevention Measures (handwashing; staying home if sick; covering nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing; flexible and remote work; regular workplace cleaning)
  • Policies and Procedures to ID and Isolate Sick Workers (encourage employees to monitor for signs of illness; move infectious people away from others; restrict access to certain areas; provide PPE if necessary)
  • Establish and Communicate Workplace Flexibility and Protections (develop flexible sick leave policies; encourage sick workers to stay home; be considerate of employees needing to stay home for ill family members; understand workers’ concerns about pay, leave, safety, and health)

Most companies now must comply with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) that provides paid sick leave and paid emergency FMLA expanded leave to workers. These programs can help companies fulfill their responsibilities under the general duty clause by allowing workers to take off the time they need without worrying about their financial losses.

Additional OSHA Guidance

Since the pandemic has worsened, OSHA continues to monitor the situation and provide guidance as necessary. For example, in the area of enforcement, OSHA has supplied instructions to its personnel on handling COVID-19-related complaints. It has also promoted flexibility in enforcing certain standards in recognition of the difficulty created for employers by the crisis.

Importantly, temporary enforcement guidance on the use of respirators by healthcare workers has been issued. These guidelines apply to annual fit-testing and enforcement of respiratory protection due to national shortages.

Don’t forget that 28 states have OSHA-approved State Plans. Most of those state plans cover private and government workers. Companies must adhere to the state plans, which have even greater standards than federal OSHA.

For more information regarding Workplace Safety, speak to one of our HR professionals at:

Kim Freeman, JD, Director of HR Services
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