The AIHA (formerly the American Industrial Hygiene Association) announced the release of revised Back to Work Safety (BTWS) Guidelines. Updates to the revised guidelines include alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new recommendations regarding vaccinated individuals; the hierarchy of health and safety controls; and references to current scientific evidence indicating that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is spread primarily by fine particle airborne transmission.
“There’s been a seismic shift in the level of understanding of how the virus propagates since the first cases of COVID-19 were identified, not to mention the massive [ongoing] deployment of vaccines worldwide,” the AIHA’s CEO, Lawrence D. Sloan, said in a statement. “Employers are increasingly concerned about how to keep their employees safe and how to address potential liability issues as they return to work.”
The AIHA offers reopening guidelines for 27 sectors, including:
- Bars, entertainment, and sports venues; gyms and workout facilities; lodging; restaurants; and retail establishments;
- Childcare settings, K–12 schools, colleges and universities, and libraries and museums;
- Construction, general office settings, manufacturing, and logistics and warehousing; and
- Dental, occupational and physical therapy, and laboratory settings.
The updated guidelines address employers’ questions regarding what to do if an employee or a customer is sick or not following guidelines, which health and safety measures employers should take regarding new virus variants, and what communication is necessary to ensure everyone is informed of preventive steps that must be taken.
The industry reopening guides do not cover COVID-19 testing and vaccination but refer employers to recommendations from the CDC and state and local public health authorities. The guides have been revised to reflect the AIHA’s understanding that COVID-19 primarily is spread by airborne transmission through exposure to respiratory aerosols or droplets carrying the virus.
The guides include employer recommendations for ventilation, cleaning and disinfection, personal hygiene, physical distancing, face coverings, and waste and laundering, as well as employee training and communication.
The AIHA recommends establishing multiple layers of risk mitigation strategies
through the hierarchy of hazard controls—elimination, substitution, administrative and engineering controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE)—as employees, customers, and visitors are unlikely to adhere to all infection control guidelines.
“We urge employers to implement a multi-layered risk management approach so that if one layer is weakened or fails (e.g., masks or physical distancing), the other protective measures such as ventilation or disinfection are there and can be strengthened to provide adequate protection for workers,” Melanie D. Nembhard, the lead contributor to the AIHA’s guidance documents, says.
The guides remind employers that if they choose to provide employees with N95 filtering facepiece respirators, they must comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) respiratory protection program regulations. The respiratory protection program rule includes requirements for medical evaluation, initial and annual fit testing, and employee training in respirator use.
The group suggests that employers follow recommendations for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) set out in the AIHA’s “Reducing the Risk of COVID-19 Using Engineering Controls” guidance document.