OSHA Issues Emergency Temporary Standard to Protect Healthcare Workers from Coronavirus

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued an emergency temporary standard to protect healthcare workers from contracting coronavirus. The standard focuses on healthcare workers most likely to have contact with someone infected with the virus. OSHA announced the new standard alongside new general industry guidance, both of which are aligned with Centers for Disease Control guidance.

The emergency temporary standard establishes new requirements for settings where employees provide healthcare or healthcare support services, including skilled nursing homes and home healthcare, with some exemptions for healthcare providers who screen out patients who may have COVID-19. OSHA will update the standard, if necessary, to align with CDC guidelines and changes in the pandemic.

In addition to the healthcare-focused ETS, OSHA is issuing updated guidance to help employers and workers in other industries protect workers who are still not vaccinated, with a special emphasis on other industries noted for prolonged close-contacts like meat processing, manufacturing, seafood and grocery and high-volume retail.

The standard will require non-exempt facilities to conduct a hazard assessment and have a written plan to mitigate virus spread, and requires healthcare employers to provide some employees with N95 respirators or other personal protective equipment. In addition, covered employers must ensure 6 feet of distance between workers. In situations where this is not possible, employers should erect barriers between employees where feasible.

The standard also requires covered employees to provide workers with paid time off to get vaccinated and to recover from any side effects. Covered employees who have coronavirus or who may be contagious must work remotely or otherwise be separated from other workers if possible, or be given paid time off up to $1,400 per week. For most businesses with fewer than 500 employees, tax credits in the American Rescue Plan may be reimbursed through these provisions.

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 will be present with suspected or confirmed coronavirus.

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 will use its enforcement discretion to avoid citing employers who miss a compliance deadline but are making a good faith effort to comply with the ETS. OSHA will continue to monitor trends in coronavirus transmission.

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Posted June 16, 2021

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