OSHA’s New COVID-19 Guidance & How to Keep Your Workplace Safe

restaurant employee using covid-19 protocols for safe workplace

In 1970, when Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act into law, an estimated 14,000 workers were killed on the job every year. Fifty years later, that number is down to 5,333. Still, safety in the workplace remains a paramount concern, and not only because we’re struggling through a pandemic.

Over the decades, we’ve broadened our knowledge of what dangers threaten the workplace and how best to promote organizational health. We better understand the psychological effects of stress, the damage caused by harassment, and harmful consequences of inequality. And we know how to mitigate these risks more effectively.

Following the most recent guidance issued by OSHA, here’s what you need to know to keep your workplace safe.

The Latest Guidance

OSHA issued new guidance on preventing the spread of COVID-19 at the end of January. The new guidance is advisory in nature and creates no new legal obligations.

However, one of President Biden’s first acts after being sworn in was to sign an Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety. This directs OSHA to increase enforcement of existing agency standards and investigate whether a new standard for COVID-19 mitigation is needed.

Given that, employers may want to consider the new guidelines a strong recommendation. Essentially, OSHA recommends that employers and employees implement a COVID-19 prevention program that includes the following elements:

  • Masks and social distancing
  • A hazard assessment
  • Measures to limit the spread of the virus
  • Ways to identify (and send home) sick employees and policies for employee absences that don’t punish workers for staying home when sick
  • Communication of coronavirus policies and procedures in both English and the primary language of non-English speaking workers
  • Protections from retaliation for workers who raise coronavirus-related concerns

Tips to Keep Your Workplace Safe

As you work to keep your workplace safe, we’ve put together a few tips to help you out. In addition to the OSHA guidance, these ideas will help keep your worksite, employees, and customers as safe and at ease as possible.

Your Safety Policy
  • Create and issue a written safety policy for employees to read and acknowledge. Employees should know that they will be held accountable to the policy and can be disciplined regardless of whether they sign it.
  • Provide employees with a form (either paper or digital) so they can document and report their safety concerns. This promotes employee involvement in proactive safety assessments of the workplace. For this practice to work, employees need to feel comfortable raising concerns and confident those concerns will be addressed. You can make the submission process anonymous to increase the likelihood that it is used.
  • Do not create safety incentive programs or reward employees when there are no reported incidents, as these rewards can encourage employees to keep safety violations hidden.
  • If you need help putting together a COVID-19 Prevention Program (required for California employers), our team can help! Reach out to us for more information here.
Response to Concerns
  • Investigate all health and safety concerns, even if no one has made an official complaint.
  • Quickly and thoroughly address instances of health and safety violations.
  • Promote psychological safety by taking steps to ensure people feel safe to speak up about their concerns.
Employee Leave
  • Provide paid sick leave and make requesting leave hassle-free. When sick employees are worried about a smaller paycheck or are required to find a substitute to cover their shift, they may feel pressured to come in to work while infectious, putting colleagues and customers at risk.
  • Give employees permission and time to rest and recharge. When a workplace situation causes someone to have a fight-or-flight response, it may be best for them to step away from the situation before they say or do something they may regret or that causes more harm. Make sure employees know that they can remove themselves from an overly stressful situation, without punishment or retaliation.
Being Proactive
  • Forward OSHA’s QuickTakes online newsletter to employees.
  • Offer monthly 10-minute safety or wellness trainings. Trainings could be on anything from how to get a good night’s sleep to safe driving techniques. Promote employee involvement by asking various employees to facilitate them.

Next Steps

Talk to your workers’ compensation carrier. You can get good safety tips, trainings, and ideas from them, and you may be able to get write-offs. Like you, they want to keep costs down, so they’ll likely appreciate your efforts to make safety a priority and do what they can to help.

Additionally, check in with our team at SDP for more of our workplace safety solutions. In addition to PPE and reopening kits, our HR team is here to help with your COVID-19 related questions. We’ve also just rolled out an all-new line of time clocks including facial recognition and temperature screening for contactless clocking in.

Need a little extra support? No matter your situation, SDP has layers of HR support that can help. Learn more about our HR Support Services here. And don’t forget to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn for even more business tips & news!

Photo by Norma Mortenson from Pexels

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