Takeaways from OSHA’s New Guidance for COVID-19

OSHA’s New Industry-Specific Guidance

In its effort to better help businesses deal with the safety challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA has recently issued several industry-specific guidelines. These guidance documents, available on OSHA’s COVID-19 resources page, are 1-page each and provide high-level bullet points to help employers in these industries better protect their workers.

Below, we provide a brief overview of the new guidelines, and summarize a few major takeaways from each.

Manufacturing Industry

OSHA’s guidance for the manufacturing sector advises employers to establish flexible working hours (i.e., “staggered shifts”) when feasible, and to maintain a space of six feet between workers when possible. It also states that employers should discourage workers from sharing each other’s tools and equipment. Read the whole guidance document here.

Construction Industry

The guidelines for the construction industry state that employers should clean portable on-site toilets as often as possible, make sure hand sanitizer dispensers remain filled, and regularly disinfectant frequently touched items such as door pulls and toilet seats. If there are times that tools and equipment must be shared, employers should provide alcohol-based wipes to workers so they can clean the equipment before and after use. If work trailers are used at construction sites, employers should advise their workers to maintain social distancing inside the trailers as often as possible. Read the whole guidance document here.

Package Delivery Workforce

Package delivery services have been vital for maintaining businesses while many physical stores remain closed. OSHA’s guidance document advises package delivery employers that their drivers should minimize physical contact with customers by leaving deliveries at loading docks, doorsteps or other locations that do not require person-to-person interactions. If workers do not have access to soap and water for handwashing, employers should provide them with alcohol-based hand sanitizing solution containing at least 60% alcohol by volume, and provide tissues, disinfectants and disposable towels workers can use to clean working surfaces. Read the whole guidance document here.

Restaurants and Beverage Vendors Offering Takeout or Curbside Pickup

OSHA advises food industry employers providing takeout or curbside pickup services to instruct their employees to avoid direct hand off of goods when possible. Employers should also display a door or sidewalk sign indicating the services available (i.e., whether curbside pickup, delivery, or both is currently offered), instructions for pickup, and hours of operation. They should also reserve spaces in front of their establishment for curbside pickup. Read the whole guidance document here.

Common Precautions Across All Guidance Documents

All of OSHA’s industry-specific documents also share some common guidance, including:

  • Encouraging workers to stay home if they’re sick
  • Allowing workers to wear masks over their nose and mouth to prevent spreading the disease
  • Encouraging respiratory etiquette, such as covering coughs and sneezes
  • Promoting personal hygiene, such as hand washing
  • Using disinfectants included on EPA’s List N, or which have specific label claims against the SARS CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19
  • Training workers on how to put on and take off personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Encouraging workers to report any safety and health concerns

OSHA has also provided a printable poster called “Ten Steps All Employers Can Take to Reduce Risk of Exposure to Coronavirus” that all employers across all industries can print and display in their places of business.

The Big Picture

OSHA’s guidance documents come at a time when their number of inspectors is reported to be at a 45-year low. According to this source, the Agency began 2020 with only 862 inspectors, down from 952 in 2016 and a historic high of 1,469 in 1980. OSHA’s own page for commonly used statistics indicates that they have approximately 2,100 inspectors when state partners are included, but even so, OSHA themselves state that this translates to one inspector for every 59,000 workers.

As discussed in a recent blog post on OSHA’s 50 year history, OSHA’s mission has always involved more than just regulation and enforcement. They can’t possibly accomplish all that they need to do without also taking on the role of teacher. They’ve issued many guidance documents on various safety and regulatory topics over the years, with their recent COVID-19 guidance being merely the latest.

At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is creating unprecedented challenges for all of us, including OSHA and its relatively small staff of inspectors , the Agency’s guidance will be more important than ever. OSHA will most likely develop additional industry-specific guidelines and other resources to help employers protect the safety of their workers during the pandemic, and we’ll continue to keep you posted.

Let VelocityEHS Help!

VelocityEHS continues to closely follow the ongoing developments from regulators and public health agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re committed to connecting you with the information you need to stay safe and healthy during these challenging and uncertain times.

Check out our VelocityEHS COVID-19 Resource Site for a growing library of helpful resources, including free access to tools that can help you simplify compliance, making it possible for you to focus on what matters most.

Please stay safe, continue to follow guidance provided by public health experts, and we’ll get through this together.

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