NASF Regulatory Alert February 2021
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in recent days issued an updated Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace. The National Association for Surface Finishing participated in a U.S. Department of Labor briefing and discussion on the new guidance in late January and discussed the measure further with OSHA since the briefing.
New Department of Labor and OSHA officials under the Biden administration, including recently named OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Frederick, noted the measure is intended to be a “change in tone” and is in response to President Biden’s Jan 21, 2021 executive order directing the agency to consider whether enforceable federal standards are necessary to replace current voluntary guidance for employers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The president’s executive order set a March 15, 2021 deadline for OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard after review and if it's deemed necessary.
New Revisions Are Not a Major Departure, But More Ahead
The new guidance, in the meantime, is not a major departure from its current version released in 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and OSHA, and indicates that employers should implement COVID-19 Prevention Programs in the workplace that include:
- conducting a hazard assessment;
- identifying a combination of measures that limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace;
- adopting measures to ensure that workers who are infected or potentially infected are separated and sent home from the workplace; and
- implementing protections from retaliation for workers who raise COVID-19 related concerns.
The guidance provides additional details on key measures for limiting the spread of COVID-19 including, among other steps:
- separating and sending home infected or potentially infected people from the workplace;
- implementing physical distancing;
- installing barriers where physical distancing cannot be maintained; and
- suppressing the spread by using face coverings.
It also provides guidance on use of personal protective equipment (PPE) when necessary, improving ventilation, providing supplies for good hygiene, and routine cleaning and disinfection.
Impact of the New Update and a Reminder for Employers
OSHA noted it would continue to update the current guidance to reflect developments in science, best practices, and standards. In addition, OSHA expects to continue to update guidance relevant to particular industries or workplace situation over time.
While this guidance is not a standard or regulation and creates no new legal obligations, it reminds employers that they already have enforceable obligations under existing federal regulations, including the obligation to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards such as COVID-19.
NASF and the finishing industry will be monitoring OSHA developments closely and prepare for a decision to be issued by March 15 that could include new requirements for workplaces nationwide. OSHA’s recent press release can be accessed here.
This article is courtesy of the National Association for Surface Finishing (NASF). For more information or to become a member, visit nasf.org.
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