OSHA Updates COVID 19 Recommendations

Three workers in factory wearing face masks and hard hats.

On August 13, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a trade release that provides updated guidance for preventing the spread of COVID 19 in the workplace. OSHA states that the updates reflect the June 27, 2021 CDC mask and testing recommendations for fully vaccinated people, made changes to the recommendations for the Manufacturing, Meat and Poultry Processing, Seafood Processing, and Agricultural Processing Industries, and updated links to the most current content.

The release summarizes OSHA updated guidance as:

  • “Recommends that fully vaccinated workers in areas of substantial or high community transmission wear masks in order to protect unvaccinated workers;
  • Recommends that fully vaccinated workers who have close contacts with people with coronavirus wear masks for up to 14 days unless they have a negative coronavirus test at least 3-5 days after such contact;
  • Clarifies recommendations to protect unvaccinated workers and other at-risk workers in manufacturing, meat and poultry processing, seafood processing and agricultural processing, and;
  • Links to the latest guidance on K-12 schools and CDC statements on public transit.”

In the guidance document, OSHA states that “this guidance contains recommendations as well as descriptions of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) mandatory safety and health standards, the latter of which are clearly labeled throughout as "mandatory OSHA standards." The recommendations are advisory in nature and informational in content and are intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

In the release OSHA explains that the updated guidance “expands information on appropriate measures for protecting workers in higher-risk workplaces with mixed vaccination status workers” to reflect current CDC guidance, as well as making analogous recommendations for fully vaccinated workers.

The release also explains that “OSHA continues to emphasize that vaccination is the optimal step to protect workers and encourages employers to engage with workers and their representatives to implement multilayered approaches to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers from the coronavirus.”

The updated guidance takes into account the preliminary evidence from the CDC which suggests “that fully vaccinated people who do become infected with the Delta variant can be infectious and can spread the virus to others.”

OSHA’s recommendations for fully vaccinated workers to reduce their risk of being infected with the Delta variant include:

  • “wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission;
  • choosing 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
  • getting tested 3-5 days following a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and wearing a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until a negative test result.”

OSHA will continue to update its guidance for employers, so check OSHA’s Coronavirus page for the most up to date information.