OSHA Provides Further Guidance on Covid-19 Prevention, Critical to Keeping Atomic Workers Safe on the Job

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released June 10 its updated guidance for employers on preventing Covid-19 exposure in the workplace.

With the highly contagious delta Covid variant spreading across the world, these guidelines help employers and workers protect employees who are unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk despite being vaccinated.

This guidance is especially crucial for USW atomic workers who labor in close working quarters—whether underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant or deactivating contaminated equipment at one of the Department of Energy’s cleanup sites.

“While OSHA’s guidance for employers is helpful, it still does not carry the same weight as a standard,” said USW Health, Safety and Environment Director Steve Sallman.

“With a standard, OSHA can enforce employers to comply if they violate it. If an employer violates OSHA’s guidance, the agency has no legal authority to force the employer to adhere to the guidance.

“OSHA can only enforce the guidance if it can prove the employer violated the General Duty Clause in the Occupational Safety and Health Act. This requires employers to provide their workers with a safe and healthy workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm,” Sallman said.

The USW fought for Covid-19 protections for its members in its sectors. Political action from Local 12-369 leaders at Hanford resulted in concrete safety protections and pay for workers exposed to or who had Covid-19.

Protecting workers

OSHA echoed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in stating that most fully vaccinated people can resume their daily activities without wearing masks or social distancing, except where they are required to do so by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

The CDC suggests the fully vaccinated people who are still at-risk due to immunocompromising conditions should discuss the need for more protections with their health care providers.

OSHA says that many employers established Covid-19 prevention programs to keep unvaccinated and at-risk workers safe. These programs include measures such as telework and flexible schedules, enhanced cleaning programs with a focus on high-touch surfaces, engineering controls (ex. Ventilation), administrative policies (ex. Vaccination policies), personal protective equipment, face coverings and physical distancing.

Workers are encouraged to ask their employers about plans in their workplace. Plus, workers with disabilities who are at-risk may request reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

To read OSHA’s guidance and suggestions for unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers whose employer does not have a Covid-19 prevention program, go HERE.

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