October/November 2021  Volume 19, Number 5        
 

man getting vaccine

OSHA Urges Employers to Require Vaccinations

In mid-August the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor updated its advisory guidance on controlling COVID in the workplace.

OSHA now “emphasizes that vaccination is the most effective way to protect against severe illness or death from COVID-19. OSHA strongly encourages employers to provide paid time off to workers … to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects. Employers should also consider working with local public health authorities to provide vaccinations for unvaccinated workers in the workplace.”

OSHA also encourages employers to adopt policies that require workers to get vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing — in addition to mask wearing and physical distancing — if they remain unvaccinated.

Delta Variant

OSHA cites that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports in its latest Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People that infections in fully vaccinated people (breakthrough infections) happen in only a small proportion of people who are fully vaccinated, even with the Delta variant. Moreover, when these infections occur among vaccinated people, they tend to be mild, reinforcing that vaccines are an effective and critical tool for bringing the pandemic under control.

Still, fully vaccinated people can potentially spread the Delta variant to others even as they themselves are only mildly or not at all affected by it. To reduce the risk of spreading the Delta variant to others, employees and others should:

  • wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission;
  • choose to wear a mask regardless of level of transmission, particularly if individuals are at risk or have someone in their household who is at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated; and
  • get tested 3-5 days following a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until a negative test result.

While these recommendations are only advisory for most employees, they are essentially still mandatory under OHSA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for Healthcare. CDC has also updated its guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools to recommend universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.

CDC's Face Mask Order requiring masks on public transportation conveyances and inside transportation hubs has not changed, except that CDC has announced it will be amending the Order to not require people to wear a mask in outdoor areas of conveyances (if such outdoor areas exist on the conveyance) or while outdoors at transportation hubs, and that it will exercise its enforcement discretion in the meantime.

State OSHA Advisories

Almost half the states have their own OSHA programs (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming).

Their requirements regarding COVID-19, if they have issued them, are probably at least as protective as the federal OSHA and may go beyond. For example, guidance from California’s Cal/OSHA advises all employers and employees to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Cal/OSHA’s mask guidance also requires employers to provide masks to any employees who require one. Check with your state’s OSHA, if necessary.

BREAKING NEWS:

President Biden has instructed OSHA to develop an emergency rule requiring all employers with 100 or more employees to make sure “their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week.” Legal challenges are expected.

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In this issue:

This Just In...

OSHA Urges Employers to Require Vaccinations

Updates on “Long Haul COVID” Claims

Mental Health Recognized as Significant Workplace Issue

Workers Comp Basics: Disability Apportionment

 

 


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