On June 10, 2021, OSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) to ensure uniform protection for employees within the healthcare industry from exposure to COVID-19. The ETS is effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register. Employers must comply with most provisions within 14 days, and with provisions involving physical barriers, ventilation, and training within 30 days.
This Federal standard covers healthcare and healthcare support employees working in settings where patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 received treatment (e.g., hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, emergency responders, home healthcare workers, ambulatory care facilities), or where patients with undiagnosed illnesses receive treatment (e.g., emergency rooms or urgent care centers).
The key requirements of the ETS include, among other things:
The ETS is the first Federal OSHA standard that specifically addresses COVID-19. It emanates from President Biden’s January 21, 2021 Executive Order, which declared that protecting the health and safety of workers is a “national priority and a moral imperative.” In promulgating the new ETS, OSHA has determined that the existing standards and regulations, including the General Duty clause, are insufficient to fully address the COVID-19 hazards of healthcare employees.
OSHA also issued new Guidelines for mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Although not a standard, these updated guidelines are intended to assist employers and employees not covered by the ETS to reduce the exposure of COVID-19 for employees who are unvaccinated or otherwise at risk. The guidelines encourage employers to implement the following procedures to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk employees and mitigate the spread of COVID-19: