OSHA Issues New COVID-19 Guidance for Workplaces

The agency seeks to mitigate and prevent viral spread in businesses, offices and other places of work.

February 01, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Complying with part of one of President Biden’s first Executive Orders the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on Friday issued stronger worker safety guidance to help employers and workers implement a COVID-19 protection program and better identify risks which could lead to exposure and contraction, the agency said.

The voluntary recommendations are in line with a directive from President Biden for OSHA to release clear guidance for employers to help keep workers safe from COVID-19.

The guidance, “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace,” updates recommendations and outlines existing safety and health standards.

“More than 400,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and millions of people are out of work as a result of this crisis. Employers and workers can help our nation fight and overcome this deadly pandemic by committing themselves to making their workplaces as safe as possible,” said Senior Counselor to the Secretary of Labor M. Patricia Smith.

The guidance recommends several essential elements in a coronavirus prevention program: 

  • Conduct a hazard assessment.
  • Identify control measures to limit the spread of the virus.
  • Adopt policies for employee absences that don’t punish workers as a way to encourage potentially infected workers to remain home.
  • Ensure that coronavirus policies and procedures are communicated to both English and non-English speaking workers.
  • Implement protections from retaliation for workers who raise coronavirus-related concerns.

The guidance details key measures for limiting the spread of COVID-19, including ensuring infected or potentially infected people are not in the workplace, implementing and following physical distancing protocols and using surgical masks or cloth face coverings. It also provides guidance on use of personal protective equipment, improving ventilation, good hygiene and routine cleaning.

OSHA said the new guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it doesn’t create new legal obligations. The recommendations are meant to help employers recognize and abate hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm as part of their obligation to provide a safe and healthful workplace, OSHA said.  However, OSHA is continuing work to comply with another section of the same executive order which directs them to determine if an emergency temporary standard on COVID-1 is necessary.  The Agency has until March 15 to comply with that part of the order.

In late January, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a toolkit to help essential employers inform their workers about vaccines to protect against COVID-19, raise awareness of the vaccines and address common questions and concerns.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.