As the country begins the process of re-opening the economy, the federal government, through CDC and OSHA, is ramping up efforts to help private and public sector employers better understand how to manage workplace COVID-19 exposures, infections and risks.
Both agencies issued updated and joint Coronavirus guidance and recommendations last week here.
These efforts are being driven by several factors including a realization that the pandemic isn’t ending any time soon, just how contagious COVID-19 can be, as well as highly publicized problems at companies like Amazon, Tyson foods and others. These and other factors continue to undermine critical employee and customer confidence that workplaces and businesses can operate safely during the pandemic, which seriously threatens the overall goal of resuming the economy.
Here are some of our observations:
- CDC and OSHA are finally consolidating guidance and recommendations. Until recently, both agencies issued separate recommendations through a hodgepodge of websites, web-pages and guidance documents, making it very difficult for employers to understand what to do.
- Whereas previously available information was generic, both agencies are now offering industry specific recommendations and guidance (ie: manufacturing, agriculture, airport & public transport operations, meat packing, etc.)
- Actual overall guidance and recommendations hasn’t changed much since the start of the pandemic.
- Specific guidance for manufacturers to “Create a COVID-19 assessment and control plan”
- Despite these improved efforts, guidance can still be vague and difficult to follow. We noted the following examples:
- “Incorporate guidance from other authoritative sources or regulatory bodies as needed”
- “management should also be aware of and follow all applicable federal regulations and public health agency guidelines.”
- “This document provides guidance for manufacturing workers and employers. This guidance supplements but does not replace general guidance at these websites..” (and then lists 5 different websites)
- As a result of all of these challenges, most manufacturers are implementing bits and pieces of the plan, but few if any are managing everything.
- Focus on Workers Rights, which mandates that employers cannot retaliate against employees who complain about safety issues (including COVID-19) to management or OSHA.
In summary, manufacturers should recognize just how extensive, complicated and technical these guidance and recommendations are, the challenges they’ll likely face while trying to implement and manage them, and therefore follow this advice which appears at the top of the page which states “Work directly with appropriate state and local public health officials and occupational safety and health professionals” to help ensure that the company is managing all aspects of their COVID-19 Assessment and Control Plan.
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