OBM Issues Guidance on Pandemic Federal Workplace Safety

Federal Workplace Safety Guidance Memo Aimed at Protecting Workers from COVID-19

The United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies that focuses on the health and safety and to protect Federal workers from COVID-19, providing Federal workplace safety guidance to the agencies on maintaining a safe workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic, including requiring face masks and social distancing at all Federal buildings, monuments and forms of interstate travel such as planes, trains, buses and ferries. The memo, released this week, comes on the heels of President Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask Wearing.

The memo, which is part of the National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, requires the Federal agencies to establish a COVID-19 Coordination Team and are tasked with conducting assessments and reviewing compliance with workplace safety plans and COVID-19 workplace safety rules, with the goal of protecting workers from COVID-19.

The OMB guidance also provides model safety principles that require the 24 Chief Financial Officer Act agencies to use to develop tailored agency COVID-19 workplace safety plans and submit by Friday, January 29, 2021. The principle outlined in the model should be used as a starting point for individual agency workforce safety plans, and agencies should adjust, as appropriate, for their mission requirements. Agencies with on-site contractor employees should make appropriate refinements to ensure the principles are applied to contractor employees in a manner that achieves workplace safety.

The workplace safety plans should also address how the safety principles will apply to on-site contractor employees, and agencies must ensure such contractor employees are aware of the requirements to comply with the CDC guidelines, including mask wearing and social distancing.

Protect Federal Workers from COVID-19

The guidance on pandemic Federal workplace safety states the masks worn by Federal employees and on-site contractors must cover the nose and mouth, and must be in accordance with all current CDC and OSHA guidance. Novelty/non-protective masks, masks with ventilation valves, or face shields should not be a substitute for masks.

The Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies model safety principle COVID-19 workplace safety rules include:

  • Environmental cleaning (enhanced in common use/high touch/high density spaces) and hygiene (FDA-approved hand sanitizer stations available at the building entrance and throughout workspaces);
  • Ventilation and air filtration modifications may be considered in accordance with CDC guidance including as density increases. To the maximum extent feasible, indoor ventilation will be optimized to increase the proportion of outdoor ventilation, improve filtration, and reduce or eliminate recirculation;
  • Federal employees should limit domestic and international travel and adhere to CDC guidelines before, during, and after travel, regardless of whether the travel is personal or for official business;
  • Requiring social distancing of at least 6’ from others at all times, including in offices, conference rooms, and all other communal and work spaces. Individuals should maintain distance AND properly wear masks. One-way walkways, reconfiguration of workspaces or office assignments, and other mitigation strategies may be implemented to minimize interactions;
  • Continuing to encourage the use of telework and remote work and personnel should be encouraged to stagger work times to reduce density, minimize traffic volume in elevators, and avoid crowds during commuting. Agency HR teams should work with OPM to understand the pay and leave implications surrounding staggered work schedules and other flexibilities;
  • The agency’s COVID-19 Coordination Team will collaborate with and support the contact tracing programs of their local public health departments to help identify, track, and manage contract tracing of COVID-19 cases;
  • Conducting symptom monitoring for all Federal employees and on-site contractors on a daily basis or upon entry to the workplace, which the agency will use to assess the individual’s risk level and to determine whether they should be allowed entry to the workplace;
  • No Federal workplace should operate above 25% normal occupancy standards; exceptions must be cleared by the head of the agency as advised by the agency’s COVID-19 Coordination Team and in consultation with the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. The agency’s COVID-19 Coordination Team should develop a staffing plan that outlines which employees will work on-site full-time, on-site occasionally, or fully remote.

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