The Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) recently unveiled a new webpage that answers new FAQs about COVID-19 and worker safety and also consolidates guidance from both the safety agency and the CDC.
This is undoubtedly a welcome move for all industries, but especially for the food processing and manufacturing industry, which has been the source of several COVID-19 outbreaks (for an updated list of food plant coronavirus closures — visit Food Dive).
In our COVID-19 report, released last month, workforce issues were the number one challenge facing the industry, identified by 41% of processors/packers and 20% of equipment/service suppliers. For the most part, this manifested in the practicalities of keeping workers safe (social distancing, providing enough PPE, enhancing sanitation procedures, etc.) and in the simple fact that many people are afraid to return to work. According to Food Processing, one union representing meat and poultry workers estimates that 30% of union members are scared to go back to the plant.
The new OSHA FAQ page answers questions ranging from whether employers are required to provide cloth face coverings for employees (no, but employers do need to provide a hazard-free work environment and cloth face coverings are one type of control measure that can help do that) to whether employers are obligated to tell other employees if a worker tests positive for COVID-19 (again, no, but employers do have to take steps to protect employees, and notifying other employees if one of their coworkers gets the disease is one way to do that).
OSHA makes clear that the guidance on the page is not a standard or a regulation, and the agency notes the difficulty in determining whether or not cases are workplace-related. However, from the data we’ve collected, the union estimate, and other similar reports, the biggest hurdle for food manufacturers and processors might not be complying with OSHA standards, but convincing workers they’re doing everything they can to keep facilities safe.
The FDA also has a page that consolidates guidance, including that for food facilities. You can find it here.