OSHA Finally Issues Emergency Temporary Standards for Healthcare and Other Industries

On June 10, 2021, OSHA issued an emergency temporary standard to protect workers in healthcare settings from COVID-19. In addition, OSHA issued general COVID-19 guidance for other industries that focuses on protecting unvaccinated workers and encouraging vaccination.

COVID-19 ETS for Healthcare Workers

According to the OSHA COVID-19 ETS Fact Sheet, the ETS is aimed at protecting workers facing the highest COVID-19 hazards—those working in healthcare settings where suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are treated. This includes employees in hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities; emergency responders; home healthcare workers; and employees in ambulatory care facilities where suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are treated. The ETS exempts fully vaccinated workers from masking, distancing, and barrier requirements when in well-defined areas where there is no reasonable expectation that any person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 will be present.

The key requirements of the ETS are:

COVID-19 plan: Develop and implement a COVID-19 plan (in writing if more than 10 employees) that includes a designated safety coordinator with authority to ensure compliance, a workplace-specific hazard assessment, involvement of non-managerial employees in hazard assessment and plan development/implementation, and policies and procedures to minimize the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to employees.

Patient screening and management: Limit and monitor points of entry to settings where direct patient care is provided; screen and triage patients, clients, and other visitors and non-employees; implement patient management strategies.

Standard and transmission-based precautions: Develop and implement policies and procedures to adhere to standard and transmission-based precautions based on CDC guidelines. 

Personal protective equipment (PPE): Provide and ensure each employee wears a facemask when indoors and when occupying a vehicle with other people for work purposes; provide and ensure employees use respirators and other PPE for exposure to people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, and for aerosol-generating procedures on a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

Aerosol-generating procedures on a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19: Limit employees present to only those essential; perform procedures in an airborne infection isolation room, if available; and clean and disinfect surfaces and equipment after the procedure is completed.

Physical distancing: Keep people at least 6 feet apart when indoors.

Physical barriers: Install cleanable or disposable solid barriers at each fixed work location in non-patient care areas where employees are not separated from other people by at least 6 feet.

Cleaning and disinfection: Follow standard practices for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and equipment in accordance with CDC guidelines in patient care areas, resident rooms, and for medical devices and equipment; in all other areas, clean high-touch surfaces and equipment at least once a day and provide alcohol-based hand rub that is at least 60% alcohol or provide readily accessible handwashing facilities.

Ventilation: Ensure that employer-owned or controlled existing HVAC systems are used in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions and design specifications for the systems and that air filters are rated Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 13 or higher if the system allows it.

Health screening and medical management: (1) Screen employees before each workday and shift; (2) Require each employee to promptly notify the employer when the employee is COVID-19 positive, suspected of having COVID-19, or experiencing certain symptoms; (3) Notify certain employees within 24 hours when a person who has been in the workplace is COVID-19 positive; (4) Follow requirements for removing employees from the workplace; (5) Employers with more than 10 employees, provide medical removal protection benefits in accordance with the standard to workers who must isolate or quarantine.

Vaccination: Provide reasonable time and paid leave for vaccinations and vaccine side effects. 

Training: Ensure all employees receive training so they comprehend COVID-19 transmission, tasks and situations in the workplace that could result in infection, and relevant policies and procedures. 

Anti-Retaliation: Inform employees of their rights to the protections required by the standard and do not discharge or in any manner discriminate against employees for exercising their rights under the ETS or for engaging in actions required by the standard.

Requirements must be implemented at no cost to employees. 

Recordkeeping: Establish a COVID-19 log (if more than 10 employees) of all employee instances of COVID-19 without regard to occupational exposure and follow requirements for making records available to employees/representatives. 

Report work-related COVID-19 fatalities and in-patient hospitalizations to OSHA.

The ETS is effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register. Employers must comply with most provisions within 14 days and with the remaining provisions within 30 days. OSHA said it would use its enforcement discretion to avoid citing employers that miss a compliance deadline but are making a good faith effort to comply with the ETS.

COVID-19 Guidance for Other Industries

This guidance focuses on protecting unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in their workplaces and includes the following recommendations for employers when workplaces have unvaccinated employees:

  • Allow paid time off for workers to get vaccinated.
  • Instruct unvaccinated employees to stay home if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19, suspect they have COVID-19, or were in close contact with someone with COVID-19.
  • Employ physical distancing for unvaccinated and other at-risk workers.
  • Provide unvaccinated and at-risk workers with facemasks.
  • Educate and train workers on COVID-19 policies and procedures in formats and languages they understand.
  • Suggest unvaccinated customers, visitors, and guests wear facemasks.
  • Maintain ventilation systems.
  • Conduct routine cleaning and disinfection.
  • Record and report COVID-19 fatalities and in-patient hospitalizations in accordance with 29 CFR 1904.
  • Implement protections for retaliation and set up an anonymous process to voice concerns regarding COVID-19-related hazards.
  • Follow other mandatory OSHA standards: personal protective equipment, respiratory protection, sanitation, medical records, recordkeeping, and reporting.

The full text of the guidance has been posted on OSHA’s Safe Work website.

HBL has experience in all areas of benefits and employment law, offering a comprehensive solution to all your business benefits and HR/employment needs. We help ensure you are in compliance with the complex requirements of ERISA and the IRS code, as well as those laws that impact you and your employees. Together, we reduce your exposure to potential legal or financial penalties. Learn more by calling 678-439-6236.

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