As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches 500,000 deaths in the United States alone, stricter mandates are now necessary. The virus—with new, more contagious variants popping up—spreads easily. Without the right precautions in the workplace, any industrial or manufacturing facility can quickly become a dangerous and infectious place.
Handling of the pandemic rapidly shifted once President Joe Biden entered office in January. Biden put a stricter emphasis on containing the virus for everyone, and he’s paying close attention to industry work. He issued an executive order for OSHA to reevaluate temporary emergency standards and release new mandates by March 15.
The changes come at a time when employees are already calling upon the government and OSHA to take stricter action. Though some states have rolled out employer guidelines, new mandates on the federal level will ensure employers keep workers safe.
OSHA’s New Guidance
OSHA announced the new guidance at the end of January, about a week after Biden’s executive order. It encourages employers to take stricter action in some areas, like management. However, OSHA is mandating and not merely suggesting changes when it comes to vaccinations. Here’s what employers need to know.
Industry and manufacturing work already entails a significant number of responsibilities. To curb that stress, OSHA suggests employers appoint a coordinator responsible for COVID-19 topics. They must remain in the know and aid the coordinator.
However, upper management must be receptive to employee feedback. If workers don’t feel safe due to COVID-19 risks, they may not speak up in fear of backlash.
OSHA’s guidance suggests working in protections for employees so no demotions or firings occur. One solution is anonymous feedback. With a COVID-19 coordinator and better methods of communication in place, the new guidelines streamline workplace safety.
Regular assessments are needed to monitor risks and lower hazards. They must include who is at the highest risk and then lower those odds. It’s critical to repeat this process as new information emerges, like new strains of COVID-19 around the world.
Employers need steps in place for each COVID-related scenario. If an employee develops symptoms or tests positive for the virus, they must immediately be quarantined until they’re feeling better. Anyone who faces potential exposure must isolate until they recover, test negative or are without symptoms.
OSHA also recommends making as many accommodations as possible for these absent employees. Working from home, paid sick leave or expanded benefits are in order during these times of crisis.
Risk mitigation and management include constant sanitation and hygiene practices. OSHA reinforces the need for PPE like masks, gloves and plastic dividers. The agency also clarifies that PPE is not a substitute for physical distancing—employers must enforce both.
Alongside PPE, consistent cleaning and sanitizing will eliminate germs from the facility. However, OSHA points out that air quality needs attention, as well. As managers adhere to precautions for respiration by improving ventilation, employees will stay healthier.
If someone in the workplace does contract the virus, the agency recommends waiting 24 hours to let the germs die before initiating a deep clean.
4. Testing and Vaccinations
Finally, now that COVID-19 vaccines are becoming more available, OSHA has updated its guidance for employers. While they should provide regular testing for workers when possible, vaccinations are now a mandated priority.
Employers must ensure that all doses of the vaccines come at no cost to workers. The injections themselves should be free, and companies can cover transportation costs. Additionally, due to mass demand, wait times may take a while. Businesses can choose to give employees paid time off to get vaccinated.
The Lasting Pandemic
OSHA’s new guidance is sure to keep employees safe, especially since the organization can enforce more rules at any time. Some states have their own rules, too. Virginia has gone so far as to make these regulations permanent. Though the pandemic is temporary, these mandates keep people safe.
Employers have an obligation to lower the spread of the virus, preventing deaths along the way. With these mandates and suggestions, all workplaces can create the safest conditions possible for employees to work and survive the pandemic.By: Nikki Johnson-Bolde