OSHA to Issue New COVID-19 Worker Protections After Executive Order

Employers can expect OSHA to issue new COVID-19 workplace guidelines sometime soon. Recently signed Executive Orders are aimed at protecting employees, accelerating vaccine access, and more. Find out what HR teams should know about this incoming set of regulations.

How Does the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Protect Workers?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency of the U.S. government under the Department of Labor (DOL). Congress created OSHA from the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to ensure health and safety standards for employee working conditions. 

OSHA’s mission is to aid in the prevention of work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. OSHA also sets and enforces standards by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance. Employers are required to adhere to certain OSHA regulations that ensure compliance with these goals, including record-keeping for on-the-job injuries and illnesses and providing a hazard-free workplace.  

These objectives have been put to the test during the coronavirus pandemic. Between providing personal protective equipment (PPE), working remotely, and enforcing social distancing measures, many employers have struggled to keep up with the guidelines that help keep employees safe from COVID-19. As a result, pandemic-related lawsuits against American employers are on the rise.

Executive Order Directs OSHA to Develop New COVID-19 Regulations in 2021

On Jan. 21, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order that directs OSHA to provide more COVID-19 safety guidelines. These new regulations are expected to be delivered by Feb. 4, 2021

OSHA is also mandated with enforcing employee health and safety requirements as well as determining whether new temporary emergency safety standards need to be implemented in the workplace. These are required to be issued by March 15, 2021.

According to The National Law Review, under the previous presidential administration, OSHA only issued non-binding coronavirus safety guidelines. In other words, instead of releasing new emergency standards to account for the dangers of the pandemic, OSHA used existing regulations to provide safety direction to employers. 

As the publication puts it, the executive order ensures that OSHA “will be taking a more active approach regarding adopting COVID-19 workplace rules.” This revamped enforcement directive could include:

  1. Requiring mask-wearing in the workplace; and

  2. Making short-, medium-, and long-term changes to better protect employees on the job and ensure equity in enforcement.

What Else Should HR Know About New OSHA Requirements for Employers?

The same executive order stated that it will launch a new national program to focus OSHA coronavirus enforcement efforts on violations that put the largest number of employees at serious risk. While little is known about the program at this time, the refocused enforcement initiative is likely to impact larger employers and industries on the frontline of the pandemic, including healthcare workers, food supply workers, and more. 

With this said, new COVID-19 workplace guidelines haven’t been issued yet. HR professionals should stay on top of the two deadlines set by the Biden administration and adjust practices accordingly. As a reminder, these dates include: 

    • New OSHA Guidance: By Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021

    • New Emergency Temporary Standards: By Monday, March 15, 2021

Keep an eye out for updates from the Cypress Benefit Solutions\’ team as guidance will be released later this week. Please let us know if you have any questions.

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