Understanding the President's New COVID Guidelines for Workplaces

Within the first two days of Joe Biden's presidency, he signed various executive orders, with one of the key focuses being to create a cohesive and comprehensive plan to help Americans deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the primary executive orders was to create new Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines. The "Protecting Worker Health and Safety" order allows OSHA to enforce its guidelines and actively work with employers to combat COVID-19.

When the pandemic first began over a year ago, many Americans remained somewhat oblivious to the consequences. That is, until the pandemic hit full force, with a wave of infections taking the country hostage. These new guidelines help reduce the risk of workers contracting COVID-19 in all industries, including the food and beverage industry. They also help to secure jobs and limit unemployment rates.

Reports of poor working conditions, including those in food production and manufacturing, cast scrutiny on previous measures that did not promote workplace safety.

How COVID Affects a Workplace

These guidelines mark a new, more extensive approach to COVID safety in workplaces, especially those working in the food industry. To start, they recognize that the workplace can suffer from absenteeism, where workers are absent because they have to care for someone who is immunocompromised. It also affects commerce patterns, as many people now are looking for delivery services rather than coming in contact with front-line staff. Similarly, many shipments to restaurants, like food supplies, are affected.

To respond to these concerns, OSHA outlines several tactics workplaces can take to improve safety and bring some structure to health and safety practices. These include:

  • Outlining a Disease Preparedness and Response Plan

  • Establishing workplace controls

  • Preparing the worker and space using PPE and protective barriers.

Disease Preparedness and Response Plan

As a part of the new guidelines, all workplaces, including restaurants, must have a Disease Preparedness and Response Plan. This plan takes into consideration how workers in a specific establishment may be infected. For example, infection vectors could be a public restroom, customers, or other sick workers. This guideline then allows employers to establish procedures to combat these risks.

For example, workers should be wearing PPE at all times, and high-risk individuals should stay home. Sick workers should be given paid sick leave to prevent them from coming to work sick because of fear they will lose money.

Workplace Controls

In addition to outlining procedures to elevate safety, the guidelines also focus on establishing workplace controls. These distance workers and customers from potential threats. The controls range from engineering controls like installing high-efficiency air filters to improving workplace ventilation, putting up plastic barriers, and small take-out windows to limit customer-worker contact.

Administrative controls, like alternating shifts to reduce the number of employees on the floor at one time, are also necessary. Another administrative control would be providing current education and training to staff about the COVID-19 risk factors and the best protective behaviors. When it comes to PPE controls, worker protective equipment must be continually checked and refitted, always worn, replaced when necessary, and cleaned regularly.