OSHA Releases Long Awaited Emergency Temporary Standard for Covid-19

One of the executive orders signed by President Biden after taking office, included the creation of an emergency standard for Covid-19 by OSHA. Originally OSHA had a deadline of March 15, 2021 to create the emergency standard, but that deadline passed with no action taken. This lack of direction has left many industries trying to guess which direction OSHA would take with this emergency standard. Since the original deadline, vaccinations have increased and the CDC has relaxed its guidance surrounding distancing and masking. This new direction in the pandemic was taken in to account as OSHA developed the new emergency standard.

In the end, OSHA released an emergency temporary standard (ETS) addressing Covid-19 that only covers health care workers and exempts all other employers. This is good news for us in the ginning industry and means that we are exempt from the requirements included in the new standard. OSHA did address all exempt employers by releasing new nonbinding guidance that relaxed previous recommendations.

The new guidance for non-healthcare workers can be viewed by clicking the link provided. I suggest that all members review the new guidance. One thing to keep in mind is that this new ETS is issued by federal OSHA and state plan states (VA, NC, and SC) may issue their own standard or guidance concerning Covid-19 worker protection.

Under the OSH Act all employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Even though we as an industry are exempt from the mandatory emergency standard, we must still provide a safe and healthy workplace for our employees. It is important that members review the new guidance and apply the concepts as needed to provide a safe workplace for all employees. It seems that most of the gins in this southeast did a reasonable job addressing Covid-19 in the workplace during this past season. The policies and practices that are already in place may be adequate as we move forward. With the issuance of updated guidelines, now would be a great time to re-evaluate existing policies and make improvements where needed.

The new guidance does make a distinction between fully vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. Workplaces where all employees are fully vaccinated no longer need to take steps to protect their workers from Covid-19 exposure. Employers should still take steps to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers.

Suggested guidance to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 in unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers include:

  1. Consider paid time off for employees to get vaccinated.
  2. Instruct infected, exposed unvaccinated workers, and workers with symptoms to stay home from work.
  3. Implement physical distancing for unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in all communal areas.
  4. Continue to provide face coverings for unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers.
  5. Educate and train workers on your Covid-19 policies and procedures.
  6. Suggest unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests to wear face coverings,
  7. Maintain ventilation systems.
  8. Perform routine cleaning and disinfection.
  9. Record and report work-related Covid-19 infections and deaths.
  10. Set up process for workers to voice concerns about COvid-19
  11. Follow all other applicable mandatory OSHA standards.

Although our industry is exempt from the mandatory emergency Covid-19 standard, it is important that we continue to be vigilante in protecting our workers from the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace. Review the included link and evaluate the effectiveness of your existing Covid-19 policies and procedures.