Nov 2, 2021
OSHA Standards for Occupational Exposure to COVID-19
New Regulations Implemented as of June 2021
With apprehension about being in the workforce and the uncertainty of working through a global pandemic, staffing shortages are occurring across the country at higher rates than in recent history. Many essential workers in the foodservice, retail, and healthcare industries are rightly concerned about COVID-19 exposure and its implications for their family and long-term health.
Over the past year, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), U.S. Department of Labor, and state governments have been weighing the options of mitigating the spread and have begun implementing new safety protocols. OSHA’s new related regulations were formally published in June 2021—read on to learn about what these entail.
OSHA Standards for COVID-19 Exposure
As part of the new standards, OSHA outlines the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements and duties of both employers and employees during this time. Regarding PPE, hazard assessment of used equipment must be conducted, and a respiratory protection program and standard must be in place when respirators are a worker protection necessity.
Furthermore, the “Blood Pathogens” standard was expanded to include human blood and other non-respiratory secretions that may be carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Recording Cases of Occupational Exposure
This new provision also accounted for how workplaces must handle and record cases of exposure. If a worker is infected when performing work-related duties, COVID-19 can be recorded as occupational exposure; along with this, these must be true:
- It is a confirmed case of COVID-19.
- It is work-related.
- It involves one or more of the criteria outlined in 29 CFR 1904.7.
Companies should also follow a strict response plan in these cases of occupational exposure.
COVID-19 Exposure Response Plan
The Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019 was also reinforced and expanded by new provisions published in July 2021. This was done to cover all other industries not previously included in earlier emergency standards, including the one mentioned above in June. The ten-point strategy outlines guidance for controlling exposures in the workplace, enforcing protocols, and reducing the risk of transmission across industries. Some of the procedures outlined include:
- Continued implementation of the U.S. Department of Labor’s COVID-19 protocols
- Worker protection from retaliation
- Inspection procedures to identify possible exposures or causes of exposure, including a greater focus on unvaccinated or partially vaccinated employees in non-healthcare industries
- The process for dealing with standards violations
- Documentation of emergency response and inspections
This memorandum also outlines the ongoing partnership and action taken by federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). OSHA continues to update policies and procedures as new guidance from these agencies is released.
Other Standards That May Apply
As COVID-19 becomes more formally recognized as an occupational hazard, or at the very least, employees may be exposed to it in the workplace, OSHA also outlines which other standards and protocols should be relevant and upheld during this time. These are divided into four categories: General Industry, Construction, Agriculture, and Federal Agencies and include the following:
- Personal Protective Equipment
- General Environmental Controls
- COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard
- Toxic and Hazardous Substances
- General Safety and Health Provisions
- Occupational Health and Environmental Controls
- Personal Protective Equipment and Life Saving Equipment
- Basic Program Elements for Federal Employee Occupational Safety and Health Programs and Related Matters
It’s also important to note that workers’ rights protecting them from retaliation for reporting instances of occupational exposure are still intact under these new standards. If exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, know that you have a right to not only report it and the unsafe conditions that may have contributed, but you also may be eligible for workers’ compensation. Call (770) 741-2825 to discuss your legal options.
State-By-State Response Plans
In addition to the national safety standards, 28 states, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have implemented programs for occupational safety that were required to be OSHA-approved and compliant with the level of protection and effectiveness as the OSHA provisions. Among these plans, only 22 cover both private sector and government employees, while the remaining six only cover state and local government workers. You can view your state’s approved plan here.
States, like Georgia, that have not implemented their own plans still fall under the federal OSHA protections, which extend to most private-sector employees in the state. However, local and state workers are not covered. To learn more about what Georgia is doing for government workers, contact the state OSHA offices by visiting here.
Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Attorneys
As the laws and procedures regarding COVID-19 standards and policies continue to evolve with new strains, employers need to be cognizant of which provisions may apply to their workplace and employees. It may seem as if new standards are being released monthly, and with the current administration working with OSHA to implement vaccine mandates, this continues to be an ongoing situation. Nevertheless, employers have a legal responsibility to maintain a safe and healthy work environment for all employees.
The Law Offices of Nathaniel F. Hansford, LLC has been a dedicated advocate for employee rights for decades, and our team of attorneys has over 50 years of combined experience protecting workers after occupational injuries and illnesses. If you face workplace retaliation after filing an OSHA complaint, sustained an injury on the job, or became exposed to COVID-19 while performing job duties, schedule a consultation with our office.
Call (770) 741-2825 to get in touch with a member of our team. Multilingual consultations are available.