Since its outbreak in January 2020, the pandemic has taken the lives of nearly 745,000 Americans and continues to impose a major risk in the workplace.
OSHA has determined that unvaccinated workers face grave danger from exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. It is hoping the new rules will result in approximately 23 million individuals becoming vaccinated, which could prevent more than 6,500 deaths and over 250,000 hospitalisations.
However, it is cognisant of the right to choose and still protect the workers who remain unvaccinated.
The new ETS preempts state and local laws
Based on its enforcement experience during the pandemic to date, OSHA has concluded that the existing standards and regulations – the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act – are not adequate and has established the COVID-19 Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS).
The ETS has gone into immediate affect, requiring employers with a workforce of 100 or more to enforce either a mandatory COVID vaccination policy – which it believes is still the most effective and efficient control available – or one that requires unvaccinated employees to undergo weekly testing and wear a face covering in the workplace. This includes being in a vehicle with another person for work purposes.
Employers are not obliged to pay for testing or face coverings, with some exceptions. If a positive COVID-19 diagnosis is received, the worker must immediately notify the employer and be removed from the workplace, regardless of their vaccination status. Employers must ensure the worker is tested within seven days before returning to work.
The ETS also requires employers to provide each employee:
- With info about the requirements of the ETS and the company’s policy
- About the benefits of being vaccinated, by providing the CDC’s ‘Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines’
- Protection against retaliation and discrimination
- Info about the laws and criminal penalties for knowingly supplying false statements.
The ETS requires employers to report work-related COVID-19 fatalities to OSHA within eight hours of learning about them, and work-related COVID-19 in-patient hospitalisations within 24 hours, along with required documentation.
ABA’s actions and member input
US President Joe Biden announced the COVID-19 Action Plan in September and delegated OSHA to manage vaccine/testing mandate.
Along with other trade associations, ABA raised concerns over the move without input from interested stakeholders and urged collaboration between government and the baking industry before the ETS are brought into effect.
Since joining in April 2021, ABA has greatly increased member outreach regarding the Rapid Action Consortium (RAC) in order for the baking industry to be directly engaged with testing people in the workplace.
In October, a similar letter of concern is sent to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the ABA – and other industry groups – is invited to participate in meetings to advocate for its members questions regarding timing, costs and ETS implementation.
While OSHA submitted ETS to the Federal Register for immediate implementation on 4 November, the ABA – as the voice of the wholesale baking industry – will have the opportunity to submit comments advocating changes to OSHA next month.
ABA is in the process of setting up a webinar discussing the OSHA ETS and encourages members to submit any questions to Lauren Williams at email@example.com.
It also welcomes member feedback on the new requirements.