Protection from COVID-19 in the workplace

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at the Department of Labor recently released its long-anticipated Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) on ‘Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.’ Labor Secretary Marty Walsh led this effort while President Biden’s nominee for OSHA Administrator, Doug Parker, is still working his way through the Senate confirmation process. The ETS had been under review at the White House for several weeks before it was published as COVID-19 related guidance from other federal agencies, like the CDC, was changing.

Despite all of the rumors and innuendo around a strict federal ETS for employers, the administration instead only applied the mandatory standard to healthcare workplace settings while keeping other workplace settings under the current ‘guidance’ position. Given the rise in vaccinations, this is a much lower burden for furniture retailers. The OSHA guidance on protection from COVID-19 in the workplace provides additional steps for retail and other businesses to protect a mixed vaccination population of employees and customers.

Recommendations

In reviewing the updated guidance, many furniture retailers have practiced or continue to practice the recommendations listed below.

  • Suggest masks for unvaccinated (or unknown-status) customers and other visitors.
  • Consider means for physical distancing from other people who are not known to be fully vaccinated. If distancing is not possible, consider the use of barriers between work stations used by unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers and the locations customers will stand, with pass-through openings at the bottom, if possible.
  • Move the electronic payment terminal/credit card reader farther away from any unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers to increase the distance between customers and such workers, if possible.
  • Shift primary stocking activities to off-peak or after hours when possible to reduce contact between unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers and customers.

Furniture retailers have been able to survive the COVID-19 pandemic by taking these precautions to protect their workforce. Through industry efforts, we have proven those techniques to be effective and safe. Unfortunately, there were furniture retailers that did not remain in business due to the economic impact of COVID-19. This recent guidance from OSHA is a practical step forward for furniture retailers and other industries by recognizing successful efforts throughout the pandemic and the ability to adapt as we adjust to getting closer to normal operations.

 

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