OSHA Issues New Guidance for COVID-19 Safe Work Practices

In response to the Executive Order signed by President Biden, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released on January 29, 2021, new guidance on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The document, Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace, replaces the previous one created by OSHA and significantly expands the elements to be implemented by businesses, including printing operations.  

The guidance contains the following key elements:  

  • Conducting a hazard assessment 
  • Implementing a combination of measures that limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
  • Making a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees.
  • Adopting measures to ensure that workers who are infected or potentially infected are separated and sent home from the workplace.
  • Implementing protection from retaliation for workers who raise COVID-19 related concerns.
  • Ensuring communications with workers in a format and language they can understand (non-English languages and American Sign Language)

The measures for limiting the spread of COVID-19 include separating and sending home infected or potentially infected people from the workplace, accommodating workers who have higher risk factors, implementing physical distancing, installing barriers where physical distancing cannot be maintained, and suppressing the spread by using face coverings. It also addresses using personal protective equipment (PPE), when necessary, improving ventilation, providing supplies for good hygiene, and routine cleaning and disinfection. It also recommends that employers do not distinguish between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not because there is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines prevent transmission of the virus. 

The guidance is not mandatory and contains recommendations and information designed to assist employers in recognizing and abating hazards due to COVID-19. OSHA under the Biden Administration has already made clear that COVID-19 enforcement will be a priority, and unless it issues an Emergency Temporary Standard, this guidance will  be relevant to OSHA’s enforcement efforts. OSHA can use its authority under the Act’s General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), which requires employers to provide their workers with a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.  

However, it is anticipated that OSHA will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard and will use this recent guidance as its foundation. In the same Executive Order requiring OSHA to issue revised guidance, President Biden ordered OSHA to consider whether an emergency temporary standard on COVID-19 is necessary. The Executive Order set March 15, 2021 as the deadline by when OSHA must finalize and issue the rule.  

We will continue to track developments at OSHA and will share with you any updates on revisions to guidance and regulatory activities. For more information, please contact PRINTING United Alliance’s Government Affairs Department at govtaffairs@printing.org or Adriane Harrison, VP of Human Relations Consulting at aharrison@printing.org

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