Health Care and Employment Alert: OSHA Temporary Emergency Standard for Healthcare Employers and COVID-19 Guidelines for Non-Healthcare Employers
As expected, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is becoming increasingly active on the COVID-19 front. On June 10, 2021, OSHA announced the publication of a Temporary Emergency Standard (STE) to protect healthcare workers from COVID-19. The ETS will be effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, which is expected to happen imminently. In addition to the ETS, OSHA has published guidance for all other employers on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, particularly with respect to unvaccinated and at-risk employees.
Temporary emergency standard for healthcare workers
According to the OSHA press release, the ETS “aims to protect workers facing the highest coronavirus risks – those who work in healthcare facilities where patients with suspected or confirmed coronavirus are being treated. This includes employees of hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities; emergency responders; home health workers; and employees in ambulatory care facilities where patients with suspected or confirmed coronavirus are treated. Like virtually all OSHA standards, the ETS uses a tiered approach to protect workers covered by the standard, which includes requiring employers to:
- Develop and implement a written COVID-19 plan that includes a designated safety coordinator responsible for ensuring compliance;
- Implement patient screening and management that includes limiting and monitoring entry points into settings where direct care is provided and screening of patients, visitors and non-employees;
- Provide and ensure the use of personal protective equipment as needed;
- Limit the number of employees exposed to procedures generating aerosols on people suspected / confirmed of COVID-19;
- Create physical distancing and barriers;
- Clean and disinfect areas;
- Provide training to employees on the transmission of COVID-19, the tasks and situations in the workplace that could lead to infection, as well as the relevant policies and procedures; and
- Ensure that employer-owned HVAC systems are operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and design specifications and that the air filters have a Minimum Efficiency Ratio (MERV) value of 13 or higher if the system requires it. allows.
Notably, the ETS exempts fully vaccinated workers from masking, distancing and barrier requirements in well-defined areas where there is no reasonable expectation that a person suspected or confirmed of COVID-19 will be present.
Employers must comply with all provisions of the ETS within 14 days of publication of the ETS in the Federal Register, except for requirements regarding physical barriers, ventilation, and employee training. Employers must comply with these provisions within 30 days of the ETS’s publication in the Federal Register.
The ETS is very detailed and many requirements are not covered in this article. However, OSHA has published a fact sheet summarizing the ETS and FAQs, which are linked below. These are very informative and will help employers to comply with the ETS.
OSHA Guidelines for the Protection of Unvaccinated or at-Risk Workers
At the same time as OSHA released the ETS for Healthcare Workers, it also released guidelines for employers in the form of recommendations to be used to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers, such as workers who have had a transplant, as well as employees who have had the use of steroids or other drugs that suppress the immune system. The employer’s recommendations include:
- Offer paid time off to employees to get vaccinated;
- Teach infected, unvaccinated workers who have been in close contact with an infected person and all other symptomatic workers to stay home;
- Implement physical distancing strategies for unvaccinated or at-risk employees in all common areas;
- Provide face covers / masks for all unvaccinated or at risk employees;
- Train employees on your COVID-19 policies and procedures;
- Maintenance of ventilation systems; and
- Perform routine cleaning and disinfection.
OSHA’s guidelines for unvaccinated and at-risk workers are quite consistent with CDC guidelines on the same subject.
In conclusion, it is essential that healthcare providers become familiar with ETS and take action now to comply with its requirements. One would expect OSHA to focus its resources on law enforcement in this area. As workers continue to return to work, employers outside of healthcare should continue to implement strategies that protect unvaccinated or at-risk employees.