Even as major cities reach the milestone of 70% vaccinated, OSHA reaffirms the importance of protecting workers from COVID-19. On June 10th, OSHA issued an emergency temporary standard to protect health care workers as well as new guidance for employers to keep unvaccinated workers and otherwise at-risk workers healthy.
Temporary Standard for Healthcare Environments
“Too many of our frontline health care workers continue to be at high risk for contracting the coronavirus,” said Marty Walsh, the U.S. Secretary of Labor about the new emergency temporary standard.
Because exposure to COVID-19 presents a grave danger to those working with patients who may have the virus, OSHA has deemed it necessary to protect these workers who are facing ongoing exposure. Settings where employees provide health care or health care support services, like nursing homes and assisted living facilities, are all covered under the federal OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). This temporary standard covers increased PPE requirements, recommendations for improved ventilation, and other safe work practices.
New Guidance for All industries
According to the CDC, most other workplaces won’t need to take additional steps to protect fully vaccinated workers from COVID-19 exposure. However, OSHA also issued new guidance for employers and workplaces for protecting unvaccinated and other at-risk workers. OSHA says vaccinations are critical to a multi-layered approach in protecting workers from contracting the coronavirus but recognizes that not everyone can get vaccinated.
People with certain underlying medical conditions or individuals who take immune-weakening medications may not have a full immune response to the COVID-19 vaccine, they are considered to be “at-risk workers.” If an employee cannot get vaccinated, is not completely protected by a vaccine, or cannot use a face covering, employers should take the same steps to protect these workers as they would unvaccinated workers.
Unvaccinated or otherwise “at-risk” employees should continue to follow already established COVID-19 prevention policies. Measures that are still encouraged include remote working, wearing face coverings, and continuing to practice safe social distancing. Employers should also encourage workers to get vaccinated and ensure they have the time to recover from any possible side effects.
Staying Healthy at Work
This past year has highlighted just how important healthy workplaces really are. Unless all employees are fully vaccinated, OSHA recommends they continue following exposure prevention guidelines for the coronavirus, pending further updates.
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