by Todd Sturgeon, Sturgeon Consulting

Manufacturers have struggled over the past two years with ever changing Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, State mandates, unemployment incentives, material shortages, surging inflation, quarantine periods, and ill employees. Many breathed a sigh of relief after the Supreme Court ruled against part of the emergency temporary standard on vaccination and testing. The fear of losing a large percentage of unvaccinated employees, or trying to complete costly weekly testing was over.

U.S. Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh, has not taken this defeat gracefully. You can read his full statement on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website, but a few key quotes are:

“I am disappointed in the court’s decision, which is a major setback to the health and safety of workers across the country. OSHA stands by the Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard as the best way to protect the nation’s workforce from a deadly virus that is infecting more than 750,000 Americans each day and has taken the lives of nearly a million Americans.”

“Regardless of the ultimate outcome of these proceedings, OSHA will do everything in its existing authority to hold businesses accountable for protecting workers, including under the Covid-19 National Emphasis Program and General Duty Clause.”

These statements show that COVID-19 enforcement is certainly still a major OSHA focus. The January 2022 national daily case rates are four times higher than at any time during the pandemic. We are all tired of dealing with COVID-19, but now is not the time to let down your guard. The key is finding a balanced approach to minimize employee illness and quarantine time away from work.

Here are a few ways our clients are successfully managing this process:

  • The use of rapid home antigen tests can be effective for determining if symptomatic employees have COVID or maybe just the common cold.
  • Post isolation/quarantine/close contact employees should wear a face mask that fits them well and provides a higher level of protection- such as surgical masks, KN95, or N95 respirators. Single layer cloth masks should be avoided.Continue to practice social distancing whenever possible – don’t forget breaks and lunch.
  • Remind employees on a regular basis that exposure behavior outside of work can impact not only their livelihood but that of their co-workers.
  • Visitors and vendors should be required to wear masks at your facility.t
  • Visitors and vendors should be screened for illness and recent travel to higher-risk areas.
  • Remember that OSHA does not recognize COVID as an excuse for not completing required employee training topics, audiograms, fit tests, etc. Plan to get these completed after we pass the peak infection months.
  • Good habits such as hand washing, high contact surface cleaning, avoiding touching the eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, etc. should be continued. These good habits help minimize the spread of cold and flu viruses.

It is always best to err on the side of caution. One COVID positive employee could impact a large percentage of your workforce. The good news is that many countries are discussing the pandemic becoming endemic in the near future.

Side Note: Todd Sturgeon is the instructor for NWIRC’s upcoming OSHA Compliance training programs on February 16 in Erie and March 31 in DuBois. He has a B.S. in Safety Sciences from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and over 30 years’ experience working across a wide range of manufacturing industries.