OSHA issues new guidance on returning to work

As Illinois and other states continue to lift restrictions and move into different stages of reopening, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued new guidance on how non-essential businesses should reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. The new guidance is intended to supplement OSHA’s previously developed Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 and the White House’s Guidelines for Opening up America Again.

The new OSHA guidance outlines three phases of reopening:

  1. Encouraging continued telework and special accommodations for employees with higher risks of illness
  2. Easing restrictions on who is permitted at the workplace.
  3. Eliminating restrictions in phase three.

In addition to reiterating basic elements of reopening such as conducting assessments of hazards that increase risk of occupational exposure, isolating sick workers and maintaining proper hygiene and social distancing, the agency also answered a series of questions employers have raised about their responsibilities to workers including conducting on site temperature checks and other health screening and determining when employees need personal protective equipment (PPE).

Per the new OSHA guidance, worksite testing, temperature checks and health screening are allowed if done with transparency and confidentiality and without retaliation and if companies decide to do their own screenings and record the results, they may have to adhere to the Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records, which would require keeping those records on file.

OSHA has been criticized by some lawmakers, workers' advocates and unions that it is dropping the ball on workers by only administering nonbinding guidelines and has issued only one citation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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