OSHA Updates COVID-19 Guidelines

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Telecom employers and employees will be interested to know that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued updated COVID-19 guidance for workplaces. Officials call it a “first step” by the Biden administration and new OSHA leadership to address the pandemic, reported Safety and Health magazine.

The updated direction is titled Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace. The order directs OSHA to consider an emergency temporary standard related to COVID. If that’s considered necessary, the agency must issue one by March 15. 

“The guidance issued today is the first step in a process,” to address the pandemic in the workplace, said Jim Frederick, OSHA’s acting administrator and the agency’s deputy assistant secretary. He emphasized the guidance issued January 29 is not the last step.  

In the updated direction, OSHA replaces suggestive language with stronger language, such as employers “should implement” prevention programs to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. Steps employers should take to reduce COVID transmission include adopting policies that encourage potentially infected workers to remain home without punishment for their absences, according to Safety and Health magazine.

Workers also should have protection from retaliation for raising pandemic-related concerns, and employers should communicate policies and procedures in every language in their workforce, according to OSHA. Additionally, the document calls for hazard assessments and the identification of control measures to limit the virus’ spread.

Physical distancing and face covering information is included, as well as the roles of employers and employees in pandemic responses. This includes considerations for workers who are at higher risk of severe illness, including older employees, “through supportive policies and practices.”

Other sections address the installation of barriers when physical distancing of six feet or more isn’t feasible, ventilation, personal protective equipment, good hygiene practices, and routine cleaning and disinfection.

Another step in the process is “streamlining” the COVID-19-related citation process, OSHA Senior Advisor Ann Rosenthal said during a news conference. She said the previous administration had “so many levels of review for COVID-related citations that, generally, they were issued on the final day of the six-month statute of limitations.” The goals of the streamlined process, she added, are timely abatement of hazards and informing workers.

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