Covid Delta Variant Safety In The Workplace
For the 50 years that OSHA has been in existence, employers and workers have known that certain hazards exist in the workplace. OSHA has created standards to assist employers in controlling known hazards in the area. The arrival of COVID-19 and the recent emergence of the Delta variant is a modern-day case for workplace safety.
COVID-19 has forced many new changes to the traditional work environment, accelerated emergent changes in workplace practices, and even shown some traditional practices to be outdated or obsolete. No matter your personal employment circumstances, chances are you can identify a change or two that COVID-19 has had on your job or the job of someone you know.
Coping with the changes in the workplace may be seen as an opportune time to reinvent the workplace for some. Many of today’s companies have added or improved their online presence in an effort to better support and protect workers and customers alike. Today, companies use rotating schedules, video/teleconferencing, contact tracing, 10 – 14 day quarantines, and more as methods to prevent or reduce the spread of COVID-19 among the workforce.
As COVID-19 appears to be here to stay, employers and employees across the country and around the world begin to identify what the new workplace looks like for them. As they assess and consider a new way of doing business, the challenges their new world presents must be addressed.
For some, work from home (WFH) status comes with a variety of challenges including:
- Feelings of forced confinement
- No separation between home and work
- No workplace “social life”
For workers and employers who cannot work from home and must be onsite to perform their jobs, there is a risk of exposure to COVID-19. As the Delta variant spreads through the U.S., employers have a responsibility to take precautions to prevent the spread, or an outbreak, in the workplace.
To protect workers, clients and customers; employers must devise a health and safety plan that specifically outlines safe work practices for preventing contact with a contagious person and/or spreading the virus once contracted.
One method of controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace is an employer must consider whether to require vaccinations as a condition to return to the job site. This method requires an employer to identify protections for workers who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated. Where full compliance is difficult, additional safe work practices must be planned.
Where there is any likelihood that employees could contract the virus or spread the virus on the job site, the responsible employer will have a procedure for contact tracing in place. If done properly, contact tracing:
- Helps to identify exposures to COVID-19 hazards
- Helps to identify the necessary control measures needed to stop or reduce the spread
- Follows recommendations from related OSHA, CDC, state, and regional guidelines
- Determines whether OSHA standards were violated and resulted in the exposure
As many U.S. employers adopt plans for handling COVID-19 exposure in the workplace, there are 4 key elements the plan should include. Those elements are:
Assess The Internal Exposure Risk Potential
The risk of contracting COVID depends on the frequency and duration of close contact with contaminated surfaces and/or people who may be infected. Thus, like any other workplace hazard, employers must conduct a risk assessment to determine the best preventive measures for workers.
In the established health and safety program for the organization, employers should include a plan to prevent and respond to an outbreak within the employee population. The plan should include best practices, recommendations, and guidelines issued by respected authorities such as OSHA, CDC, WHO, NIOSH, etc.
Identify External WorkRelated Exposure Risks
Workers required to perform any aspect of the job off-site, such as salesmen, construction workers, repairmen, service workers, etc. could be exposed to the hazard in many ways. To protect these workers, employers must conduct a risk assessment for each specific work setting, job, task, etc. characterized by any form of off-site work.
Workers engaged in their personal safety statistically suffer fewer injuries and illnesses. Employers should engage workers in the formation of a safety plan to prevent exposure to hazards including diseases and viruses such as COVID-19. Like other workplace hazards, workers should be trained to identify and mitigate the risk of exposure.
Workers who are especially vulnerable to exposure either due to personal medical conditions or higher potential for exposure require additional protections.
Workers have a right to a safe and healthy workplace and employers have a duty to provide it, but we all have an obligation to protect ourselves and one another by being responsible and proactive in preventing the spread of this deadly virus.
A message to all workers: “If you are sick, stay home. If you think you have been exposed, get tested”.