Employers should take steps to protect fully vaccinated and unvaccinated workers against COVID-19 in the wake of the Delta variant spread, according to OSHA.
OSHA has released updated guidance based on a CDC July 27 release.
Preliminary evidence that fully vaccinated people can spread the Delta variant prompted the CDC’s and OSHA’s recent guidance.
Masks for fully vaccinated
OSHA now recommends fully vaccinated workers in areas of substantial or high community transmission wear masks to protect unvaccinated workers and to reduce their risk of becoming infected themselves.
You can find whether the county where your facility is located is in an area of substantial or high community transmission on the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker webpage. The webpage is updated every day at 8:00 pm EDT.
OSHA now also supports other CDC guidance, including:
- choosing to wear a mask regardless of transmission level, particularly if people are at risk or have someone in their household who is at increased risk of severe disease or isn’t fully vaccinated, and
- getting tested 3-5 days after a known exposure to someone with COVID-19 and wearing a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until a negative test result.
Workers at higher risk
OSHA has also clarified that employers should take additional steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among unvaccinated and other at-risk workers due to:
- close contact: where unvaccinated and other at-risk workers are working close to one another, for example, on production or assembly lines or in busy retail settings
- duration of contact: where unvaccinated and other at-risk workers have prolonged closeness to co-workers (example, six-hour shifts or longer)
- type of contact: where unvaccinated and other at-risk workers may be exposed to the virus through respiratory particles in the air (example in confined or poorly ventilated spaces)
- other factors such as employer-provided ride-sharing, frequent contact with others in community settings, and communal housing.
Manufacturing; meat, seafood and poultry processing; high-volume retail and grocery; and agricultural processing settings are among those places where OSHA says workers may be a higher risk.
Specific measures to take
In all workplaces with heightened risk due to workplace environmental factors where there are unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in the workplace, employers should:
- Stagger break times or provide temporary break areas and restrooms to avoid groups of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers congregating during breaks. Such workers should maintain at least 6 feet of distance from others at all times, including on breaks
- Stagger workers’ arrival and departure times to avoid groups of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in parking areas, locker rooms, and near time clocks
- Provide visual cues (e.g., floor markings, signs) as a reminder to maintain physical distancing
- Require unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers, and also fully vaccinated workers in areas of substantial or high community transmission, to wear masks whenever possible, encourage and consider requiring customers and other visitors to do the same, and
- Implement strategies (tailored to your workplace) to improve ventilation that protects workers as outlined in CDC’s Ventilation in Buildings and in the OSHA Alert: COVID-19 Guidance on Ventilation in the Workplace, and ASHRAE Guidance for Building Operations and Industrial Settings During the COVID-19 Pandemic
In high-volume retail workplaces where there are unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers, customers, or other people, employers should:
- Ask customers and other visitors to wear masks – or consider requiring them – especially in areas of substantial or high transmission
- Consider ways to promote physical distancing between unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk people and/or limiting occupancy to allow for physical distancing consistent with CDC guidance
- Move the electronic payment terminal/credit card reader farther away from unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers to increase the distance between customers and such workers, if possible, and
- Adjust stocking activities to limit contact between unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers and customers.
Unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers are also at risk when traveling to and from work in employer-provided buses and vans. Employers should:
- Notify unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers of this risk and, to the extent feasible, help them limit the number of such workers in one vehicle
- Make sure all unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers sharing a vehicle are wearing appropriate face coverings. Make sure all workers wear appropriate face coverings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, and
- Where not prohibited by weather conditions, open vehicle windows.
In meat, poultry, and seafood processing settings; manufacturing facilities; and assembly line operations (including in agriculture) involving unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers, employers should:
- Ensure adequate ventilation in the facility, or if feasible, move work outdoors.
- Put space between workers, ideally at least 6 feet apart, and ensure that such workers aren’t working directly across from one another. Barriers are not a replacement for worker use of face coverings and physical distancing.
- If barriers are used where physical distancing cannot be maintained, they should be made of a solid, impermeable material, like plastic or acrylic, that can be easily cleaned or replaced. Barriers should block face-to-face pathways and should not flap or otherwise move out of position when they are being used., and
- Barriers don’t replace the need for physical distancing – at least 6 feet of separation should be maintained between unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk individuals whenever possible.
OSHA now also supports the CDC’s guidance in K-12 schools for universal indoor masks for teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, as well as the CDC’s order requiring masks on public transportation and inside transportation hubs.