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Preparing for New OSHA Requirements for Employers

Posted on April 29th, 2021 Read time: 3 minutes

OSHA

Employers face major challenges as the lasting effects of COVID-19 continue into 2021. A few obstacles include navigating worksite reopenings across the nation while remaining compliant with new legislation around sick leave, family leave, workers’ compensation, vaccinations, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the workplace continues to struggle to find a new normal. With many cities and states reopening to full capacity, the burden to keep employees, clients, and customers safe often falls on employers. The spread of variant virus strains — along with vaccine reluctance in many parts of the population — means that COVID-19 might continue to spread in the immediate future.

Employers are challenged with finding ways to balance the needs of the business with employee safety. Even office workplaces that shifted to remote work in 2020 are assessing the need to return to in-office work versus the continued need for safety and flexibility. Prioritizing safety while guiding staff through a return to the worksite or through a hybrid culture will require strategy, understanding, and patience — especially with new legislation on the horizon.

On his first full day in office, for example, President Biden signed the Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety. This directed OSHA to reevaluate its COVID-19 worker safety recommendations. The current guidance from OSHA invokes the general duty clause that states: “Implementing a workplace COVID-19 prevention program is the most effective way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at work.” The new emergency temporary standard is expected to expand on this and outline guidance on vaccines, workplace controls, face coverings, and ventilation systems. It is reasonable to expect investigations into OSHA violations that occur under the new COVID-19 standards as well as enforcements.

In spite of a March 15, 2021, deadline directed in the order, emergency temporary OSHA requirements for employershave not yet been set. As of April 6, 2021, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh placed a “hold” on the implementation of the Emergency Temporary Standard in order to “reflect on the latest scientific analysis of the state of the disease.” The hold is a reminder that the guidance is constantly changing around COVID-19. With this, employers need to remain flexible.

With the momentum to fully reopen businesses and with some states lifting mandates for face coverings, businesses will be faced with conflicting guidance among employment laws by states, local jurisdictions, and updated OSHA standards. Understanding and preparing for federal emergency standards are vital steps toward remaining compliant and keeping workers safe.

 

Anticipating Changing OSHA Requirements for Employers

Preparation can help businesses stay resilient in the face of these expected changes. One way to prepare is to look toward states that have implemented stricter COVID-19 standards. For example, employers in California are well-positioned to be compliant with the expected federal emergency standard, especially if they are already following the state’s OSHA guidelines approved at the end of November 2020.

With this in mind, businesses outside of California can prepare for expected federal emergency standards by reviewing California’s current rules. It might also be beneficial to review standards passed in other states (such as Virginia and Michigan). It is likely that a federal standard will contain elements passed in these states’ emergency temporary standards.

Preparation also should include conducting a hazard analysis of each job description, examining air quality and ventilation, scrutinizing access to soap and water stations, and setting up workstations that allow for social distancing. Employers should review their process for symptom screening to ensure people do not come to work sick and must maintain communication around potential exposure. Lastly, companies need to look into and update their procedures regarding record keeping, time off work due to quarantine or illness, and family and medical leave policies.

Employers should also understand the potential for consequences. A March 12, 2021, memo from the U.S. Department of Labor issued interim enforcement guidance in response to COVID-19. Enforcement is expected to be a renewed focus for OSHA under the Biden administration. To get an idea of what to expect, it is worth taking a look at investigations and citations at the state level. California citations have been as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars in industries such as childcare, retail, fitness, and healthcare.

OSHA requirements for employers are changing due to the pandemic, and the best step employers can take is to start preparing now. By understanding what might happen with the new federal emergency standards, businesses can ensure they are ready for anything.

 

Learn more about how Innovative Employee Solutions’ human resources administration and management — along with our compliance programs — can help your company stay aligned with upcoming emergency standards

 

Miranda Svindland is a human resources representative specializing in the area of risk management at Innovative Employee Solutions (IES), a leading global employer of record in more than 150 countries that specializes in payrolling and contractor management services for today’s contingent workforce. Founded in 1974 in San Diego, IES has grown into one of the city’s largest women-owned businesses and has been named one of its “Best Places to Work” for 10 years in a row.

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