OSHA updates COVID worker safety guidance

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OSHA updates COVID worker safety guidance

Pres. Biden asked for the updated guidance in an executive order on Jan 21., which also called for rules on fines for violations, if necessary.

OSHA has issued more than $3.9 million in COVID-19 related fines after conducting more than 300 workplace inspections since the beginning of the pandemic. The main citation were violations of the general duty clause.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued stronger worker safety guidance on COVID-19 prevention and risk identification processes, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The additional guidance, which updated recommendations and outlines existing safety and health standards, is not a standard or regulation, nor does it create new legal obligations, OSHA reported.

The update mainly centers on COVID-19 prevention programs and the most effective ways to reduce virus spread. The essential elements in a prevention program are:

  • Conduct a hazard assessment.
  • Identify control measures to limit the spread of the virus.
  • Adopt policies for employee absences that don’t punish workers as a way to encourage potentially infected workers to remain home.
  • Ensure that coronavirus policies and procedures are communicated to both English and non-English speaking workers.
  • Implement protections from retaliation for workers who raise coronavirus-related concerns.

“More than 400,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and millions of people are out of work as a result of this crisis. Employers and workers can help our nation fight and overcome this deadly pandemic by committing themselves to making their workplaces as safe as possible,” Senior Counselor to the Secretary of Labor M. Patricia Smith said in a release. “The recommendations in OSHA’s updated guidance will help us defeat the virus, strengthen our economy and bring an end to the staggering human and economic toll that the coronavirus has taken on our nation.”

The guidance update stems from an executive order signed by President Joe Biden on Jan. 21, 2021, which also asked OSHA to consider whether workers need an emergency temporary standard on COVID-19.

The order calls for OSHA to issue a standard that depicts fines for employers that violate the rules, by March 15th, if it is “determined to be necessary.” OSHA is also asked with reviewing COVID-19 standard enforcement efforts and identifying changes that could be made in order to provide better protection for workers and ensure equity in enforcement. Further, the agency was directed to focus COVID-19 enforcement efforts on violations that put the largest number of workers at serious risk.

Additionally, OSHA was asked to coordinate with the Department of Labor’s Office of Public Affairs and Office of Public Engagement and the regional OSHA offices to craft a multilingual campaign to inform workers of their rights. OSHA will focus the campaign on communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

OSHA has issued more than $3.9 million in COVID-19 related fines after conducting more than 300 workplace inspections since the beginning of the pandemic. The main citation were violations of the general duty clause.

OSHA does not currently have an infectious disease standard, but the office has been working on curating one since the Swine Flu outbreak in 2010.

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