As state and local authorities around the country continue to lift stay-at-home orders, the next challenge for businesses deemed “non-essential” under these orders is clear: How do we reopen safely during an ongoing pandemic? On June 17, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set out its view on the question. The new OSHA guidance recommends a three-phase approach for reopening and lists nine “guiding principles” that employers should address in their reopening plans. During all three reopening phases, OSHA recommends that businesses implement strategies for basic hygiene, social distancing, identification and isolation of sick employees, workplace controls and flexibilities, and employee training. The OSHA guidance begins with this introduction: “[t]his guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. It contains recommendations as well as descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards. The recommendations are advisory in nature, informational in content, and are intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace.”
In Phase 1, OSHA suggests that businesses take the following measures:
Unfortunately, OSHA’s guidance does not offer any precise metrics for employers to determine when they should move from Phase 1 to Phase 2. Businesses should consider OSHA’s guiding principles (discussed below), continue to closely monitor local conditions, and heed the advice of state and local authorities when deciding to transition phases.
When an employer moves to Phase 2, OSHA suggests implementing these practices:
OSHA also does not offer guidance on when to move from Phase 2 to Phase 3. However, Phase 3 is a return to business as normal, so it is likely that businesses should only move to Phase 3 after the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is substantially over.
OSHA’s guidance is clear that there is no one-size-fits-all reopening plan; each business will need to develop its own plan, one that takes into account the nature of the business itself and local conditions. To assist employers with developing these plans, OSHA’s guidance includes nine principles that every reopening plan should address and provides examples of how to implement those principles (review the guidance itself for examples). Here are those principles:
OSHA describes its guidance as supplemental to the Opening Up America Again guidance issued by the White House and Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Additional guidance from OSHA during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic can be found on OSHA’s COVID-19 resource page.
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