President Biden was sworn into office on January 20, 2021, but even before he took office, he was promising several executive actions that could impact businesses throughout the U.S. to protect workers against COVID-19 (otherwise known as the coronavirus).
As Bloomberg noted, one of the first executive orders signed was asking OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and a subagency to identify whether there’s a need for temporary standards to protect workers while on the job.
Biden gave the agencies until March 15 to make that determination. As a reminder, here’s a list of the current guidelines.
Who’s covered and who’s not covered?
There are states that already have an OSHA-approved state plan that covers government workers and private industry workers, including California, Oregon, Washington, and South Carolina.
Some states have OSHA-approved state plans only for government workers, such as Illinois.
Other states, such as Texas, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Ohio have no state-sponsored OSHA-approved plan. Most likely, those states (without OSHA-approved state plans of any sort) would have federal mandates apply.
As a reminder, OSHA only covers businesses and their employees and workers (seasonal, temporary, etc.), not customers.
For more information about your state and the protection of its workers, see the OSHA listing.
So, what does this mean in the future – by March 15?
Because there’s a big difference from state-to-state in what’s required and the virus continues to mutate and change, analysts believe the Biden Administration will provide additional federal recommendations and mandates. But these procedures would likely only apply to states without a state-approved OSHA plan.
Some of the items the Biden Administration have already campaigned on include:
- Bigger penalties for businesses that don’t comply with federal laws
- More protection for whistleblowers who tip off OSHA
- More inspections with the hiring of additional inspection personnel; as Safety Speak indicated, Biden has already discussed doubling the number of inspections
- Additional emergency standards, such as mask requirements, sanitizing facilities, and social distancing
- Required testing and screening procedures for workers
- Training for safe COVID-oriented work procedures to ensure businesses comply
What can you do now?
Knowing there are changes most likely coming, there are things your business can do now to ramp up for new safety requirements.
1. Know existing laws and guidelines
It all starts with knowing what the legal requirements are in your area and state. For example, in Colorado, there are varying city-to-city requirements. Governments are required to provide you that information. Check state and local websites for more information.
Also, understand what OSHA provides. They have industry-by-industry requirements and guidelines.
2. Follow existing laws
We know following the law may seem self-explanatory, but it should be revisited. Ensuring your business is meeting existing requirements makes it easier to implement new guidelines and prepare your workforce for additional changes.
Why is it important to follow the law?
Perhaps it’s also self-explanatory, but here are a few reasons why it’s important to meet legal requirements. It …
- Protects your employees which helps support employee engagement
- Reduces liability, including fees and penalties that come from violations
- Helps your business keep on track – delivering products, services, projects, timelines, and budgets
- Lowers your businesses’ healthcare costs as well as the nation’s, reducing the number of people seeking medical care during this pandemic
- May lower your company’s worker’s compensation and general liability insurance premiums
What can you do?
Some of the things you can do now to ensure your business is following existing legal requirements include:
- Train. Have your employees trained on requirements and responses, such as signs to post, how to wear masks, how many sanitation stations to have, etc. Be sure to create documented evidence of training activities including who was trained, what the training was, and the dates of the training. If training is repeated on a schedule, be sure to maintain that schedule. Don’t forget training for temporary and seasonal workers as well as consultants that work at your business or work sites.
- Communicate. Communicate your expectations and what’s required to any group that is required to follow your OSHA regulations, regularly.
- Conduct audits. Verify yourselves whether your business and employees are following established laws and guidelines.
- Get the feedback loop going. Provide ways your workforce can alert management when laws and company policies aren’t followed and investigate and implement corrections as applicable.
- Ask employees to sign contracts. Ask employees to sign employment contracts or employee standards that they agree to follow regulations while at work.
- Sanitize. Companies can do more frequent cleanings to further protect employees and workers. Ensuring clean surfaces and bathrooms can help reduce the spread of COVID. Hand sanitizing stations should also be available. Lane has sanitation supplies available.
- Get masks and get distanced. Even if your state or local government doesn’t require masks – it may be time to start. Consider putting workers six feet apart, too. Depending on the type of work, it may also be time to provide gloves.
OSHA and some states have existing laws that include wearing face protection. Lane Supply Company has a variety of masks they can provide your manufacturing and construction workforce.
3. Do your part and encourage good behavior outside of work
Although you can’t tell – at least for the most part –workers how to behave after work, you can encourage good behavior. Some of the encouraging good behavior outside of work starts with how you’re dealing with workers at work.
Here are a few things you can do to help promote good health:
- Provide Paid Time Off (PTO) and job protection policies. These guidelines and policies discourage workers from showing up sick. If you’re making it easier for people to take off when they’re ill, while still being paid, they’re more likely to not show up while sick.
- Screen workers. Use existing tools to screen workers, including temperature checks and COVID testing that’s company paid. By screening workers, you’ll also ensure those who are sick stay home. Also, you’re giving employees regular free COVID tests, which would help them and their loved ones, too.
- Give masks away. Purchase good masks for employees to use at work, and give those masks away, letting your employees use them after hours. These masks can even be branded with your logo. Not only do masks keep employees safe, but they also reinforce overall health and safety. Employees or workers could even give some to their friends, limiting or eliminating community spread.
- Encourage feedback. Enable employees to provide feedback to managers and management about needed policies and changes to promote health. Consider a safety committee made up of employees to provide information to other employees as well as guidelines to management. Plus, it promotes employee engagement.
- Provide healthcare options, including mental health options. Have good healthcare options for your workforce, including mental health options such as employee assistance programs (EEAP). This pandemic has been a hit to all of our psyches. Your workforce has lost loved ones, needing more support.
- Give vaccine vacations. Provide either time off for employees to get the vaccine or consider making your workplace a vaccine center for workers. By giving people time off or time on the job to get vaccinated, for free, you’re providing every opportunity for workers to receive the vaccine.
- Stay in the know. Keep track of local trends to know when more stringent controls are needed and try to stay one step ahead. By knowing when there’s more community spread, you may have an inkling into when new local laws are provided to limit exposure.
Yes, it may be costly, but a stimulus is planned
Let’s cover the unpleasant part to businesses, other than the injury or death of employees as well as lagging projects, products losing quality, etc. (And aren’t those good reasons to abide by established laws and guidelines?) There could be government fines or lawsuits from customers affected or your workforce.
We know it’s expensive. If you’re an employer, undoubtedly, you’re already feeling the stress as the economy struggles. But the Biden Administration is hoping to offset costs by providing additional stimulus packages, including a boost to loans provided to small businesses. Those boosts could enable you to fully fund some of the practices above – from screenings to vaccine vacations.
Once in a lifetime pandemic
Everyone is tired of wearing masks. Everyone is tired of extra precautions, not hanging out with friends, socially distancing (without a mask), etc. Everyone. It’s isolating – impacting our mental and physical health – and it’s hurting the economy. Yet, precautions are still needed to ensure safety and reduce – and eventually eliminate – the spread. By staying vigilant, you’re protecting your workers and customers you interact with. You’re also protecting your company and the U.S. economy itself.
It’s a marathon. We’re almost at the finish line if we can only keep workers, friends, and family safe a little longer. Soon the vaccine will roll out and life will continue to normal or near normal. Soon.
But even after this once in a lifetime pandemic, we may need masks for mutations of this virus or other viruses that threaten our way of life, including our livelihood. Getting used to procedures and protocols, having workplace practices in place, and encouraging good behavior outside the workplace all help.
Let Lane help keep your workforce safe
Lane Supply Company provides safety gear – masks, ear protection, eye protection, and more – and equipment as well as cleaning supplies to protect your workforce.