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OSHA to Mandate Vaccines for Large Employers

Monday, September 13, 2021

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In a statement issued by the White House, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is drafting a new temporary emergency standard that would require employers with more than 100 employees to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The alternative option for unvaccinated workers requires proof of a weekly negative test result. In addition, the proposed rules would also mandate that businesses offer employees paid time off to get vaccinated and/or to recover from post-vaccination side effects.

The announcement arrives as a part of President Joe Biden’s six-pronged comprehensive national strategy to combat COVID-19. The prongs of the White House plan are as follows:

  • Vaccinating the Unvaccinated;
  • Further Protecting the Vaccinated;
  • Keeping Schools Safely Open;
  • Increasing Testing & Requiring Masking;
  • Protecting Our Economic Recovery; and
  • Improving Care for those with COVID-19.

According to The New York Times, if passed, the rules would affect some 80 million workers. However, last week, President Biden was reported to have signed an executive order requiring all federal executive branch workers to get vaccinated. The new standard is slated to be extended to employees of contractors that do business with the federal government, as well as some 17 million health care workers in hospitals and other institutions that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding.

Ed Brown, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In a statement issued by the White House, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is drafting a new temporary emergency standard that would require employers with more than 100 employees to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Such a standard would pre-empt existing rules by state governments, except in states that have their own OSHA-approved workplace agencies—or roughly half the states in the country. States with their own programs will have 30 days to adopt a standard that is at least as effective, and that must cover state and local government employees. Federal OSHA rules do not cover state and local government employees.

At this time, no draft regulations have been released, although, OSHA state plans will have 30 days to adopt their own regulations that are similar or more restrictive than OSHA’s vaccine emergency temporary standard.

COVID-19 Vaccine Awareness, Programs & Guidance

Back in April, the National Association of Home Builders, along with industry partners, worked to organize a COVID-19 Vaccine Awareness Week in Construction. The event aimed to encourage construction professionals to “do their part to help the country end the pandemic and return to normal.”

Working with members of the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, the NAHB compiled CDC resources that employers can share with their workers and trade partners to learn more about the effectiveness and availability of COVID-19 vaccines in their area.

And in March, OSHA launched a national emphasis program focusing on enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at risk of contracting COVID-19. The program was the Department’s response to President Joe Biden’s executive order on worker health and safety.

According to OSHA, NEP inspections will enhance the agency’s previous COVID-19 enforcement efforts and will include some follow-up inspections of worksites inspected in 2020. The program includes monitoring the effectiveness of OSHA’s enforcement and guidance efforts and will remain in effect for up to one year from its issuance date, though OSHA has the flexibility to amend or cancel the program as the pandemic subsides.

Though not a state requirement, OSHA strongly encouraged states to adopt the NEP. States were instructed to notify federal OSHA within 60 days.

Additionally, in a related action at the time, OSHA updated its Interim Enforcement Response Plan to prioritize the use of “on-site workplace inspections where practical, or a combination of on-site and remote methods.” OSHA says that it will use remote-only inspections if the agency determines that on-site inspections cannot be performed safely.

Most recently, last month, OSHA issued updated guidance on protecting unvaccinated and other at-risk workers from COIVD-19. The updated guidance reflects developments in science and data, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's updated COVID-19 guidance issued July 27.

In its update, OSHA added the following recommendations:

  • Recommends that fully vaccinated workers in areas of substantial or high community transmission wear masks in order to protect unvaccinated workers;
  • Recommends that fully vaccinated workers who have close contacts with people with coronavirus wear masks for up to 14 days unless they have a negative coronavirus test at least 3-5 days after such contact;
  • Clarifies recommendations to protect unvaccinated workers and other at-risk workers in manufacturing, meat and poultry processing, seafood processing and agricultural processing; and
  • Links to the latest guidance on K-12 schools and CDC statements on public transit.

OSHA continues to emphasize that vaccination is the optimal step to protect workers and encourages employers to engage with workers and their representatives to implement multi-layered approaches to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers from the coronavirus.

   

Tagged categories: COVID-19; Department of Labor; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; OSHA; OSHA; President Biden; Safety; Workers

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