OSHA Updates Its Protecting Workers COVID-19 Guidance

On August 13, 2021, OSHA updated its Protecting Workers Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace to adopt recommendations consistent with the July 27, 2021, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mask and testing recommendations for fully vaccinated people.

The updated guidance expands information on appropriate measures for protecting workers in higher-risk workplaces with mixed-vaccination status workers, particularly for industries where there is often prolonged close contact with other workers and/or non-workers. The guidance is focused on protecting workers who are unvaccinated, those not fully vaccinated, or are “at-risk”, and now those who are fully vaccinated but located in areas of substantial or high community transmission.

The guidance contains recommendations as well as descriptions of OSHA’s mandatory safety and health standards. The updates include the following:

  • Recommends that fully vaccinated workers in areas of substantial or high community transmission wear masks to protect unvaccinated workers.
  • Recommends that fully vaccinated workers get tested 3-5 days following a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and wearing a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure unless they have a negative test result.
  • Suggests that employers consider adopting policies that require workers to get vaccinated or, if they remain unvaccinated, to undergo regular COVID-19 testing – in addition to mask wearing and physical distancing.

CDC is using two different metrics to determine if a county is experiencing substantial or high transmission of COVID-19. They are using total new cases per 100,000 persons over the past seven days and the positive test rate over the past seven days. They will use the higher of either metric to classify a county. A “High” community transmission occurs when there is 100+ new cases per 100,000 persons over the past week, and “Substantial” transmission occurs when there are 50-99 total new cases per 100,000 persons.  

The remaining parts of OSHA’s guidance that address employers providing face coverings, encouragement to provide paid time off to workers for the time it takes for them to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects, isolation/quarantine, physical distancing for unvaccinated and “at-risk” employees, cleaning and disinfecting, training, and ventilation remain unchanged. OSHA also left alone the section on Recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths and anti-retaliation.

OSHA’s guidance does not carry the weight of a regulation and is not enforceable, however OSHA does have the ability and is citing workplaces for violations under the General Duty Clause.  Printing operations should carefully consider how to integrate these recommendations into current work practices. Formal adoption should provide a bit of a safe harbor as it pertains to enforcement.

For more information, please contact Marci Kinter at mkinter@printing.org, Gary Jones at gjones@printing.org, or Adrian Harrison at aharrison@printing.org.

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