OSHA COVID-19 Guidance and Beyond
By: Maryjo Pirages Reynolds,
Allen Galluzzo Hevrin Leake, LLC
On January 21, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue guidance to help keep employees safe from COVID-19. Specifically, the President requested that OSHA consider a mask mandate and creation of a program focused on OSHA enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 employer violations.
Consequently, on January 29, 2021, OSHA issued “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace,” which is available at https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework. While the Guidance is currently a recommendation, not a regulation, I anticipate similar future mandatory requirements. As such, it makes sense for employers to familiarize themselves with the guidance and begin/continue to engage in these best practices to (1) avoid or limit future OSHA complaints, investigations, and/or fines; (2) have a stronger defense against COVID-related litigation claims; and (3) be better prepared to implement anticipated future requirements. As of January 14, 2021, OSHA has issued COVID-19 related citations with total initials penalties of $4,034,288.00. Proactive efforts should be taken to try and avoid becoming a part of this growing statistic.
The Guidance recommends that employers implement COVID-19 prevention programs. It states that the most effective programs include the following elements: a hazard assessment; identification of a combination of measures that limit the spread of COVID-19; adoption of measures to ensure infected or potentially infected workers go home and remain home; and implementation of protections from retaliation. The Guidance also provides information on the provision of supplies for good hygiene, cleaning and disinfection, improved ventilation, and physical barriers. Overall, the Guidance is another tool in the employer’s toolbox as we continue to navigate this unprecedented time.