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On January 21, 2021, President Biden issued an “Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety.” In response to this executive order, on January 29th, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a guidance “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.” While this guidance has not yet become a requirement, OSHA is investigating an emergency standard that correlates with this new guidance.

The guidance describes COVID-19 as highly infectious and easily spread via respiratory droplets and particles produced when an infected person, speaks, coughs or sneezes—and can be spread by people who are asymptomatic. Furthermore, the particles can travel more than six feet, especially indoors. Therefore social distancing of six feet or more and always wearing a face covering can reduce exposure to infection.

To protect employees and prepare for the possible implementation of an emergency standard, what else should employers do to prepare?

Per the guidance, to address the contagious nature of the virus, employers should implement COVID-19 prevention programs in the workplace. To be effective, the programs engage workers and any union representation and include the following: "… 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. (There is additional) guidance on use of personal protective equipment (PPE), when necessary, improving ventilation, providing supplies for good hygiene, and routine cleaning and disinfection.”

The guidance includes a section with 16 elements that should be included in every effective COVID-19 prevention program. For example, the first element is the assignment of a workplace coordinator for employees responsible for COVID-19 issues. Another element includes the identification of the measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. After listing and describing these 16 elements, the guidance goes on with additional detail including what to do when workers likely have had COVID-19 or have been exposed to COVID-19.

You can also read the full OSHA Guidance on COVID-19.

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