New OSHA guidance says employers no longer need to protect vaccinated workers

By Jenny LescohierJune 16, 2021

OSHA stated “most employers no longer need to take steps to protect their fully vaccinated workers who are not otherwise at-risk from Covid-19 exposure” in new guidance released on June 10.

The agency also published an emergency temporary standard (ETS) for U.S. healthcare employers requiring them to develop and implement a plan to protect employees from COVID-19 in the workplace and designate one or more workplace Covid-19 safety coordinators to implement and monitor their plans.

All employers are encouraged to grant paid time off for employees to get vaccinated, and should implement physical distancing for unvaccinated and other at-risk workers in communal work areas, including limiting the number of such workers in one place at any given time, the guidance said.

The latest directive might help resolve questions from employers following a May update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that stated fully masked individuals, with some restrictions, could resume activities without wearing a mask. Last month, OSHA directed employers to follow CDC’s guidance on mask use and social distancing for fully vaccinated workers.

Associated General Contractors of America President Stephen E. Sandherr was quoted in the media as saying the fact that the final standard only applies to healthcare settings is a “significant victory” for the construction industry. AGC had questioned the need for an ETS for construction, saying the widespread availability of the Covid-19 vaccine and the industry’s coronavirus safety protocols negated the need for a nationwide standard.

Likewise, the Construction Industry Safety Coalition also stated its approval.

“The Construction Industry Safety Coalition is pleased that the Biden administration and OSHA listened to the concerns and recommendations of the construction industry in formulating a Covid-19 Emergency Temporary Standard. OSHA made the right decision to issue an ETS to cover tasks associated with high-exposure risk levels and not construction operations, which are generally low risk.

“Workplace safety and health are top priorities for members of CISC. At the outset of the pandemic, the coalition developed an industry-wide Covid-19 Exposure Prevention Preparedness and Response Plan to provide a comprehensive approach to keeping construction workers, deemed to be essential, safe,” the statement said. “We look forward to continuing to provide input on industry safety issues and working with the administration on other workplace safety and health priorities.”

OSHA has been facing pressure to publish emergency standards addressing how to protect workers’ health and safety from Covid-19 in the workplace. Attempts to get the agency to publish emergency standards involved a lawsuit filed last year by the AFL-CIO, but a federal appeals court declined to compel OSHA to do so.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in a technical assistance document updated May 28 that employers may implement policies requiring that all employees who physically enter a workplace receive a Covid-19 vaccination under federal equal employment opportunity laws, with some exceptions.

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