Yesterday, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued an emergency temporary standard (ETS) requiring COVID-19 exposure control practices for the healthcare industry. OSHA originally considered a broader standard covering all workplaces, but given increasing vaccination rates and decreasing COVID-19 cases, decided to limit the ETS to healthcare employers.
Which Employers are Covered?
The ETS applies to workers in healthcare settings where suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are treated. This includes hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, emergency responders, home healthcare agencies, and employees in ambulatory care facilities where known or suspected COVID-19 patients are treated.
What does the ETS require?
Covered employers with more than 10 employees must adopt a written COVID-19 exposure control plan. The plan must include a worksite-specific hazard assessment and plan development and implementation of steps intended to reduce the risk of spread of the virus. Employers must involve non-managerial employees in the development of the standard.
The standard needs to include assessment of the following factors:
- Patient screening and management
- Standard and Transmission-based precautions
- Personal protective equipment
- Aerosol generating procedures
- Physical distancing
- Cleaning and disinfection
- Physical barriers
- Health screening and medical management
- OSHA reporting requirements
What about our vaccinated employees?
The ETS makes clear that fully vaccinated employees are exempt from masking, distancing and barrier requirements in well-defined areas of the worksite where there is no reasonable expectation that persons with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections are present.
When will the ETS become effective?
The new rules take effect immediately. OSHA says that employers have 14 days from publication in the Federal Register (today) to comply with most requirements. Provisions involving physical barriers, ventilation, and training must be implemented within 30 days. OSHA is instructing its enforcement officials to use discretion with employers that make good faith efforts to comply with the rules. For states with their own OSHA programs (such as North Carolina and South Carolina), the ETS will not automatically apply. However, those states are expected to adopt standards at least as effective as those put in place by federal OSHA, meaning that they will likely follow suit as soon as possible.
How long will the ETS last?
Unknown. OSHA says that it will continue to monitor trends in COVID-19 infections and vaccination rates, and amend or drop the ETS when there is no longer a “grave danger” to employees.
More information on the ETS can be found here.