OSHA Issues an Emergency Temporary Standard to Protect Healthcare Workers from COVID-19

OSHA Issues an Emergency Temporary Standard to Protect Healthcare Workers from COVID-19

A new standard as well as new guidelines for industries are released as we inch closer to a safe potential ending.

OSHA announced it will issue an emergency temporary standard in order to prevent healthcare workers from contracting COVID-19. The standard is specifically targeting healthcare workers who are most likely to come in contact with someone with coronavirus. OSHA announced the new standard along with a new general guidance—aligned with the CDC guidance.

“Too many of our frontline healthcare workers continue to be at high risk of contracting the coronavirus,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. “As I said when I came to the department, we must follow the science. This standard follows the science, and will provide increased protections for those whose health is at heightened risk from coronavirus while they provide us with critical healthcare services. Given the pace of vaccinations, this standard, along with the guidance OSHA, the CDC and other agencies have released, will help us protect frontline healthcare workers and end this pandemic once and for all.”

According to a press release, the standard comes with a new set of rules 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 may update this standard, if necessary, to align with any changes during the pandemic.

“This standard is necessary to give our healthcare workers deeply needed protections,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick. “This tailored standard allows OSHA to help the workers most in danger of contracting the virus, while the updated guidance will give other businesses across the country the information they need to help protect unvaccinated workers and continue mitigating spread in the workplace.”

Updated guidance will also be issued to help employers and workers in other industries protect their employees who aren’t vaccinated yet. The press release states there is an emphasis for those working in close-contact environments, including: meat processing, seafood, manufacturing, grocery and high-volume retail.

The emergency temporary standard’s main goal is to protect workers facing the highest COVID-19 hazards. Aside from employees in hospitals and nursing homes, this also includes emergency responders. Non-exempt facilities will have to have a written plan to stop the disease from spreading as well as require healthcare employers to provide employers with N95 respirators or other PPE. Social distancing is still expected for covered employers between workers, as well. When it’s not possible, barriers should be put up where feasible. Employees will be provided with paid time off to get vaccinated and to recover from any side effects. Covered employees who have coronavirus or may be contagious must work remotely or otherwise be given paid time off of up to $1,400 per week.

The ETS fully exempts vaccinated workers from masking, distancing and barrier requirements when in a space where there is no expectation of someone being infected. The ETS is 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 actively monitor trends in COVID-19 transmission.

About the Author

Shereen Hashem is the Associate Content Editor for Occupational Health & Safety magazine.

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