New guidance from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is causing some to change their COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

On April 20, OSHA released the new guidance in the frequently asked questions section of its website for COVID-19 safety compliance.

The question asks whether an employer should record adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccination if the employer requires the vaccine. OSHA states that if a vaccine is required, then any adverse reaction is considered work-related and therefore it must be recorded.

In response, several companies said they have changed or will change their vaccination policy to only recommend—not require—a vaccine.

Companies have had to back off employee vaccination mandates.

“What they put forward could potentially discourage employers from supporting their workers getting the vaccine,” said Kevin Cannon, senior director of safety and health services at the Associated General Contractors of America. “AGC is not in support of any mandate, however we participated, April 19th through 23rd, in vaccine awareness week. We had a lot of members who were in chapters that supported the event. We even had some who hosted vaccine clinics on an active job site or in their offices.”

Many businesses may have changed their approach to those events had they known, at the time, they could potentially “be on the hook for recording these potential adverse reactions.”

AGC is also concerned the rule puts contractors working on projects such as hospital expansions, where vaccination could potentially be an owner condition of being present on the site, in a difficult position.

Cannon said AGC has reached out to OSHA as part of the Construction Industry Safety Coalition, a group of 30 industry groups from all major types of construction, to give OSHA more context as to the burden the guidance places on contractors. AGC plans to submit a letter to the agency with chapter input to the agency.

OSHA has been working for weeks on an all-industries COVID-19 emergency safety standard, which is now being reviewed by the Biden administration’s Office of Management and Budget. Release of the final rule is believed to be coming soon. It is possible the new safety standard could preempt or replace the April 20 guidance to employers. It’s unclear, at this point, if separate rules will be made for industries such as construction, where liability and risk are defined differently than in industries where work takes place in a company facility.

The number of overall COVID-19 hospitalizations and fatalities also greatly affects the recommendations CDC, OSHA and the various states have released.

Stay tuned for more on this.

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