New OSHA Guidance Encourages Workplace Safety Precautions Even After Vaccination
On January 29, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an updated Guidance concerning COVID-19 protections in the workplace. The Guidance creates no new legal obligations. However, employers have a general responsibility to provide a safe workplace and, in Palmer et al. v. Amazon.com Inc. et al., a New York federal court deferred to OSHA’s expertise about workplace safety concerning COVID-19 precautions. As such, employers should carefully consider OSHA’s suggestions regarding COVID-19 and workplace safety.
Much of the new Guidance echoes OSHA’s previous recommendations for limiting the spread of COVID-19, including, but not limited to, implementing and enforcing policies for identifying risks for exposure, social distancing, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), routine workplace cleaning, proper ventilation, and employee hygiene.
OSHA encouraged employers to assign a Workplace Coordinator who is responsible for COVID-19 issues. OSHA’s new Guidance also focused on the active participation of employees in any protection plan. To facilitate employees input into workplace safety, OSHA suggested implementing an “anonymous process for worker to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards.”
The Guidance emphasized that employers should consider workplace accommodations for certain employees. For instance, OSHA proposed that employers allow high-risk employees the option to work remotely whenever feasible. OSHA also noted that non-English speaking employees may struggle with education concerning COVID-19 precautions and education should be provided in a language that those employees understand. For workplaces with employees who are deaf or have hearing issues, OSHA recommended that an employer “consider acquiring mask with clear coverings over the mouth for all workers.”
OSHA recommended employers provide personal protective equipment, face coverings, vaccinations, and hygiene supplies at no cost to employees. The Guidance also suggested that employees should wear face coverings and continue to socially distance from coworkers and customers even if they were already vaccinated.
Overall, employers should review their COVID-19 related policies and protections to ensure that they conform as closely as possible with OSHA’s recommendations.
If you have any questions regarding the issues discussed above or if you have any other Labor & Employment Law concerns, please contact the Underberg & Kessler attorney who regularly handles your legal matters or Stephanie Hoffmann, the author of this piece, here or at (585) 258-2814.