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General Guidance on Covid-19 in the Workplace

September 2022

We continue to get frequently asked questions regarding updates to COVID-19 protocols, and most of our clients contact us with questions on what to do once they’ve had an employee test positive for COVID-19 because the procedures have been subject to frequent changes.

We’d like to help to answer some of the more common questions with a brief update regarding key points that will help guide you in continuing to maintain a compliant, but safe and healthful workplace environment.

Update August 16, 2022: COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards

 

As of today, the COVID-19 Prevention ETS issued by the California Department of Public Health remains in effect with some revisions. The workplace standards were updated last in May 2022. The revisions are currently slated to remain in effect at least until December 31, 2022, while OSHA works to integrate it into existing Standards.

 

There is both a general ETS and a Healthcare ETS, the latter of which is particularly applicable to our Dental and Healthcare clients. The following information applies to ALL places of employment, however high-risk environments may have additional requirements and guidance to ensure employee safety.

The importance in sharing this information is not to put fear into the workplace but, like any safety measure, to ensure everyone is fully prepared in the small chance something does happen.

Having a coordinated and practiced plan is the best way to keep any workplace as safe as possible in an active shooter situation.

According to an FBI report published for 2021, the number of designated "active shooter" incidents in the United States has shown significant increases country-wide since 2019.

For the purposes of this report, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security define "active shooter" as: "an individual who is engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area."

Active shooter events usually involve some sort of firearm and the targets/victims are selected randomly. These events are most often over within 10-15 minutes, so a fast response is necessary and could be vital for everyone involved.

ETS Main Requirement for Compliance

To maintain compliance with the ETS, OSHA requires that employers have developed a written COVID-19 Prevention Program as part of the existing Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP).

In accordance with their written program, employers are expected to:

  • Communicate COVID-19 prevention procedures to employees;
  • Identify, evaluate, and correct any hazards related to COVID-19;
  • Require and provide face coverings and (preferably) N95 respirators as recommended by the ETS;
  • Let employees know they may wear face coverings at work regardless of vaccination status, and without fear or retaliation;
  • Use engineering controls, administrative controls, and PPE where necessary to prevent or mitigate the spread of COVID-19;
  • Follow laid out procedures to investigate and resolve COVID-19 cases in the workplace;
  • Provide COVID-19 training to employees;
  • Make COVID-19 testing available to employees at no cost:
    • Whenever COVID-19 symptoms are present;
    • Whenever an employee has had close contact with a person who is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19;
  • Exclude from the workplace COVID-19 cases and those who came into close contact until they are no longer a risk;
  • Maintain records of COVID-19 cases, and report serious illnesses and outbreaks to Cal/OSHA and the local health department, as required.

Taking these steps will help to mitigate and prevent COVID-19 from spreading within the workplace.

B&W Compliance has already provided our clients with a complete written Injury and Illness Prevention Program, including a COVID-19 Prevention Plan, that fully meets OSHA’s mandated requirements.

It is important for employers to continue the above steps as part of this plan, in order to keep employees updated and proactive in their actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reduce related workplace hazards.

COVID-19 Outbreak Reporting

 

All Outbreaks and Major Outbreaks must be reported to OSHA (Cal/OSHA if within California), and the local Health Department – whose contact information should already be included in the workplace IIPP – within 48 hours after an employer becomes aware of three or more COVID-19 cases in the same “exposed group.”

Defining Outbreak

For the purpose of the COVID-19 ETS, an Outbreak is defined by Cal/OSHA as three or more employee COVID-19 cases in a particular “exposed group” within a 14-day period.

A Major Outbreak happens when there are 20 or more employee COVID-19 cases in an “exposed group” within a 30-day period.

An “exposed group” would include any employee present at a work location, working area, or a common area at a workplace, where a COVID-19 case may have been present at any time during the infectious period.

Common areas at work include bathrooms, walkways, hallways, break rooms, waiting areas, or anything similar where people congregate and may come into close contact with others for an extended period of time (15 minutes or longer).

Reporting Requirements

An “exposed group” would include any employee present at a work location, working area, or a common area at a workplace, where a COVID-19 case may have been present at any time during the infectious period.

Common areas at work include bathrooms, walkways, hallways, break rooms, waiting areas, or anything similar where people congregate and may come into close contact with others for an extended period of time (15 minutes or longer).

The idea is that an outbreak or major outbreak would signify a high transmission rate of COVID-19 in a particular work area or facility, at which point OSHA and the local health department have an obligation to provide guidance in resolving any health or safety issues to employees.

 

When an outbreak occurs, employers are required to report the following:

  • Total number of COVID-19 cases;
  • Name, occupation, and contact info for all infected employees;
  • Business and workplace location address;
  • Hospitalization and fatality status of all infected;
  • North American Industry Classification system code for the workplace;
  • Any other information requested;

Employers are expected to continue to provide updated information as needed and give notice of subsequent COVID-19 cases at the workplace.

If you have any questions or need any help with recording and reporting COVID-19 cases, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your assigned consultant or our office.

COVID-19 Vaccination Guidance for Employers and Employees

According to the CDC, vaccination remains the number one proven method for reducing or preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The following recommendations from OSHA regarding vaccination are meant to be advisory and are not being legally mandated or enforced by OSHA. We wanted to share the information with you both as a way of offering guidance for creating the safest environment possible for your employees, and also to answer any questions on what is and isn’t being required by OSHA.

The intention of this guidance from OSHA is to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace, free from recognized hazards that may cause serious physical harm or death, and it’s important to recognize that COVID-19 is still considered such a hazard.

 

OSHA strongly encourages employers to:

  • Provide paid time off for the time it takes for them to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects;
  • Work with local and public health authorities to provide vaccinations for unvaccinated workers;
  • Have unvaccinated workers continue masking and physical distancing;
  • Consider adopting policies that require workers to get vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing;

 

None of the above is being federally mandated for all employers (local and “high-risk” workplace mandates may still apply with regard to masking and physical distancing), however the actions listed are strongly encouraged by OSHA as the best practices to mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID-19 so employers can maintain a safe and healthful workplace environment.

Isolation and Quarantine Requirements

Isolation and quarantine of employees from the workplace is another significant method for mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 to help avoid outbreaks.

The following requirements currently apply to all employees, regardless of vaccination status, previous infection, or lack of symptoms:

  • Employees who test positive for COVID-19 must be excluded from the workplace for at least 5 days after start of symptoms or after date of first positive test if no symptoms.
  • Isolation can end and employees may return to the workplace after day 5 if symptoms are not present or are resolving, and a diagnostic specimen* collected on day 5 or later tests negative.
  • If an employee’s test on day 5 (or later) is positive, isolation can end, and the employee may return to the workplace after day 10 if they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • If an employee is unable or choosing not to test, isolation can end, and the employee may return to the workplace after day 10 if they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • If an employee has a fever, isolation must continue, and the employee may not return to work until 24 hours after the fever resolves without the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • If an employee’s symptoms other than fever are not resolving, they may not return to work until their symptoms are resolving or until after day 10.
  • Employees must wear face coverings around others for a total of 10 days.

For further guidance regarding isolation and quarantine requirements for those who have come into contact with someone confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19, click here to visit Cal/OSHA’s website to view the CDPH Guidance for Close Contacts.

Further Guidance for Mitigating and Preventing COVID-19 Spread

 

As of August 2022 updates, it is strongly recommended that everyone – including those individuals who have been vaccinated:

  • Continue to wear a mask in public indoor settings of substantial or high transmission;
  • 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 is not fully vaccinated;
  • Get tested 3-5 days following any known exposure or close contact to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19;
  • Continue to wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until a negative test result;

OSHA also notes that the CDC continues to update recommendations for fully vaccinated people based on the spread of different COVID-19 variants.

High-Risk Environments

In high-risk environments (healthcare and dental professionals, high-contact occupations), frequent handwashing by employees in addition to appropriate PPE, mask and respirator use are the key recommendations to slowing or stopping the spread of any illness. These practices are and always will be a key component to employee health and safety.

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