View source: Steve Hallo     

While OSHA missed its deadline for updated COVID safety guidance, here are a few things employers should bear in mind.

With the vaccine continuing to roll out across the country, employers are left with questions besides if they should or shouldn’t require it. Do vaccinated employees need masks? Should we track who has been vaccinated?

Many were hopeful these questions would be addressed when Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) released updated guidelines, which were due out March 15 per an executive order from President Joe Biden.

Although no particulars have been released, Gary Pearce, chief risk architect for Aclaimant, told that it appears a nationwide mandatory rule to address COVID is in the pipeline. Some indication from what can be expected can be drawn from previous OSHA guidance as well as CDC recommendations.

While the final guidance is still in the works, Pearce said there are four key points to have top of mind in the meantime:

  1. CDC guidance won’t change OSHA standards, standing state emergency directive or regulations under state OSHA plans (22 states have standalone OSHA plans). Although the CDC guidance won’t change those rules, an employer failing to follow those guidelines could draw the ire of the public, regulatory scrutiny or face legal repercussions. Pearce explained following the CDC’s recommendations speaks to a standard of care for employees.

Something being allowed doesn’t mean it is a must. New CDC guidance says certain things are now allowable, but that doesn’t mean an employer has to accept them as they can set their own rules, he explained.

  1. A consistent message is absolutely critical, as the amount of information regarding what is and isn’t allowable is vast.

“Anyone so inclined can pull up their favorite source to support their viewpoint,” he said. “Between (Dr. Anthony) Fauci, the CDC, OSHA, state OSHA, 50 governors and two presidents, there is a lot of information out there. Employers need one consistent set of rules because employees can only handle so much complexity.”

  1. The best way to determine these rules is to have a well-represented group, including people from HR, operations, legal and risk management, setting the standards, Pearce said.

“Then you will have a better perspective of what is practical for the workforce and effective at protecting people,” he said. “Multiple perspectives are necessary to achieve that balance and find rules that make sense for an organization.”

  1. Tracking employees who have been vaccinated is an absolute must. Failure to do so puts a business at a distinct disadvantage moving forward, Pearce said, noting this is a different issue from mandating the vaccine.

“I’m not sure how many will track vaccination statuses, but without that, you are depending on antidotal and public information,” he said. “Some workers won’t get vaccinated at all, while others will be on the first vaccination or waiting for number two. Some might be two weeks past their final shot and are probably as good as they’ll be.”

Until evidence shows a significant portion of the population has been immunized, the assumption should be that all existing protections need to remain in place, he said.

“Now the latest CDC guidance says if you are meeting up with a bunch of other fully vaccinated people indoors, you don’t need to wear a mask,” Pearce said. “But again, how complex do you want to make your rules?

“Let’s say you have nine employees who are vaccinated and a 10th that is not,” he continued. “You have to respect the rights of that 10th person. It isn’t even a close call; you have to proceed as if no one is protected. There will come a day, though, when that won’t be the case, but we aren’t as close to it as we would like to be.”