Updated guidance from OSHA and CDC Concerning Covid-19 in the Workplace

It is pretty obvious that a new wave of covid-19 is currently hitting the southeast and the country as a whole. We were hoping that this season would not have as many issues with the virus, but this new strain seems to be easier to spread and causing more health issues. Overall gins in the southeast did not seem to have any major outbreaks last season, and now is not the time to let our guards down. Most all gins took the guidance serious last season and implemented the necessary protocols to help prevent the spread of covid-19 in the workplace. OSHA issued its Covid-19 Emergency Temporary Standard(ETS) back in June and included guidance for employers that were exempt from the ETS. Cotton gins are exempt from the ETS, but we do need to continue addressing issues with covid-19 and re-evaluate our protocols as new guidance becomes available.

OSHA updated its covid-19 guidance for non-health care employers on August 13, 2021. This article will hopefully help our members be aware of the updated guidance and help to ensure that all necessary precautions are in place as workers begin arriving for the new season. This new guidance is based on the higher transmissibility of the Delta variant as well as preliminary evidence that fully vaccinated individuals can become infected with and spread the virus to others.

Top 10 Employer Takeaways

  1. Employers should implement methods to facilitate and encourage employee vaccination.

OSHA recommends providing paid time off to get vaccinated and/or to recover from any ill side effects of the vaccine. Osha also suggests employers consider requiring workers to be vaccinated or undergo regular Covid-19 testing. In addition to regular testing, employees who remain unvaccinated should wear masks and social distance themselves.

  1. Employers should instruct infected workers, unvaccinated workers who have been exposed to Covid-19, and all workers with Covid-19 symptoms to stay home from work.

Fully vaccinated individuals who have been exposed to Covid-19 should get tested 3-5 days after exposure and wear a mask indoors for 14 days (or until a negative test result). Individuals who are not fully vaccinated should be tested immediately , and if negative, tested again in 5-7 days after exposure (or if symptoms develop). OSHA expects all absentee policies to be non-punitive and that employers will eliminate polices that might encourage workers to come in sick.

  1. Employers should implement physical distancing in all common areas where unvaccinated workers may be present.

Physical distancing is a key method to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace. If physical distancing is not possible, employers should consider limiting the number of unvaccinated or at-risk employees in one place at any given time. This may be accomplished by staggering shifts and/or flexible lunch/break schedules to avoid workers congregating in groups. If physical distancing is not possible, employers may also consider the use of face shields or barriers to prevent transmission of respiratory droplets.

  1. Unless their work task requires a respirator or other PPE, employers should provide workers no-cost face coverings or surgical masks as appropriate.

OSHA and the CDC recommend all employees, including fully vaccinated individuals wear masks in indoor settings, in areas high transmission of Covid-19. Face coverings should cover the nose and mouth to contain respiratory droplets, at least two layers of woven breathable fabric (Cotton), and not have exhalation valves.

  1. Employers should educate and train workers on their Covid-19 policies and procedures.

These policies should be communicated clearly, frequently, and using methods to promote a safe and healthy workplace. Training should include basic facts about Covid-19, including how it is spread and the importance of physical distancing, vaccination, use of face coverings, hand hygiene, and workplace policies and procedures. Employers should document when and what employees are trained.

  1. Employers should suggest or require unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests to wear face coverings.

This would include public and indoor settings in areas of high transmission, even if no longer required by your local jurisdiction. If you do consider adopting a policy to require Covid-19 vaccination or a choice of regular testing, please do not overlook the possible legal or practical issues that must be considered.

  1. Employers should maintain workplace ventilation.

As Covid-19 spreads more easily indoors, improving and maintaining ventilation systems is key. It is important to reduce the concentration of viral particles in indoor air. This may include additional ventilation methods with portable air cleaners or increasing natural air flow.

  1. Employers should perform routine cleaning and disinfection.

This is especially important if someone in the facility is suspected of or confirmed to have Covid-19.

  1. Employers must record and report workplace Covid-19 infections and deaths.

Under OSHA recordkeeping standard, employers must record work-related cases of Covid-19 illness on the OSHA 300 log if: (1) case is confirmed Covid-19; (2) the case is work-related; and (3) the case involves medical treatment or days away from work. Employers must follow requirements to report work-related Covid- 19 fatalities and hospitalizations.

  1. Employers should implement protections from retaliation and set up anonymous methods for workers to raise concerns about Covid-19 hazards.

Employers should ensure workers know whom to contact with question and/or concerns about workplace safety and that there are prohibitions against any type of retaliation for raising safety concerns in the workplace.

This latest guidance expressly states that it is not a standard or regulation, and that it creates no new legal obligations. This is guidance intended to help employers recognize and eliminate hazards concerning the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace. However, as our members reassess their Covid-19 polices, it is important to remember their responsibility to provide a safety workplace free from recognized hazards. This is part of OSHA’s general duty clause and allows employers to be cited for hazards that are not covered under specific standards. Considering OSHA’S new guidance, employers may need to review current policies and procedures regarding potential Covid-19 exposure in the workplace.