The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) establishing new requirements for workplace safety for employers in the healthcare industry. The dangers of COVID-19 are particularly threatening to workers in healthcare settings where suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are treated. The ETS aims to provide added mandatory protections to safeguard healthcare workers from COVID-19 infection.
The ETS specifically applies to employees in hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities; emergency responders, home healthcare workers and employees in ambulatory care facilities. The rule does not extend to healthcare workers in other medical settings, such as pharmacists in retail settings or dental offices. The ETS outlines several key requirements, all of which are accompanied by extensive details and nuances. The general broad requirements are as follows:
- Implementation of a COVID-19 plan for each workplace including a hazard assessment
- Patient screening and management
- Standard and transmission-based precautions
- Personal protective equipment (PPE), respirators and aerosol-generating procedures on persons with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19
- Physical distancing measures and physical barriers
- Cleaning and disinfection practices in accordance with CDC guidelines
- Adequate ventilation (HVAC) systems
- Health screening and management of employees, patients, clients, residents and other individuals entering the healthcare facility
- Time off for vaccination and paid leave for vaccine side effects
- Face masks or coverings while indoors or occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes
- Record-keeping of employee positive cases and specific employee notification policies
At this stage of the pandemic, healthcare employers have grown accustomed to—and have already implemented—many of the requirements of the ETS. It is the first time, however, that OSHA has imposed mandatory requirements on employers. If your business falls within the above-listed healthcare facilities, you should thoroughly review OSHA’s ETS to ensure your compliance. You can find a copy of the ETS on the OSHA website.
The ETS is effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, and employers are expected to make a good faith effort to comply with its standards within 14 days. The exact date of publication, however, has not yet been determined. Employers should be cognizant of the fact that the standards governing employer expectations in response to COVID-19 are subject to change as we continue to navigate through the pandemic. OSHA continues to review the rate of COVID-19 infections and the pace of vaccinations amongst the general population, and it will release updated guidance as needed.