On January 29, 2021, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (“OSHA”) branch of the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued new guidance intended to help employers identify COVID-19 exposure risks and determine appropriate mitigation measures. OSHA clarifies that the guidance is not regulatory in nature, but it will be the standard OSHA will use to assess an employer’s mitigation efforts. Even though public school districts are not directly governed by federal OSHA, Illinois OSHA has adopted the federal OSHA requirements (with the exception of special recordkeeping rules). Therefore, Illinois public school districts should review this guidance with the understanding that this will likely be the standard by which Illinois OSHA will measure mitigation efforts.
The guidance lays out what OSHA considers the critical elements of an effective COVID-19 prevention program in the workplace. OSHA guidance dictates that such a program includes:
- Designation of a “workplace coordinator” responsible for addressing COVID-19 issues.
- Identification of where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work.
- Identification of measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, in line with the hierarchy of controls.
- Consideration of protections for workers at risk for severe illness through supportive policies and practices.
- System of effective communications with workers in a language they understand.
- Education and training of workers on the employer’s COVID-19 policies and procedures in accessible formats and a language they understand.
- Instructing infected or potentially infected workers to stay home and isolate to reduce transmission risk.
- Minimizing the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on workers.
- Isolation of workers who show symptoms at work.
- Enhanced cleaning and disinfection after people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 have been in the facility.
- Providing guidance on screening and testing to workers.
- Recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths, under certain conditions, in Form 300 logs.
- Protections against retaliation and an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related health hazards.
- Make a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees.
- Treat vaccinated and non-vaccinated workers the same (i.e., still must wear face coverings and practice social distancing).
Many districts are likely already implementing many of these guidelines. However, it is important that districts review these guidelines, along with all government guidelines, to mitigate risk during in-person learning and keep employees and students safe.