OSHA Publishes its Coronavirus Guidelines

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) became one of the first federal agencies to update its guidelines related to the impact of the Coronavirus.  In response to an Executive Order from President Biden on January 21, 2021, OHSA published its new  Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (osha.gov)  on January 29, 2021.

This Guidance is not a regulation.  It does not create rules that are legally binding on an employer.  However, the Guidance is the first attempt from OSHA at implementing a plan for employers to inform employees and to limit the spread of the Coronavirus.   It contains recommendations as well as descriptions of existing safety and health standards.

OSHA had previously used a pyramid of risk statement, which categorized workplaces as high-, medium- or low-risk and made different recommendations based on the categorization.  OSHA also had industry specific worksheets for employers to review.

The new Guidelines indicate that using face coverings at work is important to reduce the spread, following key CDC Guidance.  OSHA also recommends that employers implement COVID-19 Prevention Programs in the workplace, to the extent that they have not already done so.  OSHA recommends that employers engage workers and their representatives to implement a plan.

The Guidelines also identify 16 key points for any Prevention Program.  OSHA highlights use of masks or other protective face coverings, maintaining physical distancing, using other PPE in the workplace, separating employees who show signs and having potential infected employees remain at home, and making a COVID-19 vaccination available to eligible employees.

Most commentators believe that this is a first step from OHSA.  The Guidelines will likely be updated.  It is possible that a next step will be to create standards that may provide more binding obligations on employers.  The Guidelines provide that OSHA intends to update the Guidance over time to reflect developments in science, best practices, and standards.

If you have questions relating to how your business might be impacted by OSHA’s guidelines for the Coronavirus, contact the author, Ted T. Storer at ttstorer@beersmallers.com or Beers Mallers Attorneys At Law at (260) 426-9706.