OSHA Releases Emergency Temporary Standard to Address COVID-19 in the Workplace
On June 10, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it will issue an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to protect healthcare workers from contracting COVID-19. OSHA also updated general industry guidance for COVID-19 in the workplace.
OSHA is issuing the ETS because it has been determined that employee exposure to COVID-19 presents a “grave danger” to workers in healthcare settings where people with COVID-19 are reasonably expected to be present. The ETS is intended to protect workers facing the worst COVID-19 hazards.
The ETS applies to all settings where any employee provides healthcare services or healthcare support services. This includes employees in hospitals, nursing homes, physician offices and assisted living facilities. However, the ETS has several exceptions for its application, including:
Non-hospital ambulatory care settings where all non-employees are screened prior to entry and people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are not permitted to enter.
- Well-defined hospital ambulatory care settings where all employees are fully vaccinated, all non-employees are screened prior to entry and people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are not permitted to enter.
- Home healthcare settings where all employees are fully vaccinated, all non-employees are screened prior to entry and people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are not present.
- Healthcare support services not performed in a healthcare setting (e.g., off-site medical billing).
- Telehealth services performed outside of a setting where direct patient care occurs.
- First aid performed by an employee who is not a licensed healthcare provider.
- Dispensing of prescriptions by pharmacists in retail settings.
The ETS would apply to healthcare settings embedded in a non-healthcare setting (e.g., medical clinic in a manufacturing facility), but only the healthcare setting and not the entire facility. Where emergency responders or other licensed healthcare providers enter a non-healthcare setting to provide healthcare services, the ETS applies only to the provision of the healthcare services by that employee. Additionally, in well-defined areas where there is no reasonable expectation that any person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 will be present, certain sections of the ETS will not apply to employees who are fully vaccinated. OHSA released a flowchart to help employers determine whether their workplace is covered by the ETS.
Employers covered by the ETS are required to perform a series of actions, including:
Creating a COVID-19 plan that comprises developing and implementing a plan for each workplace, designating a workplace safety coordinator, conducting a workplace-specific hazard assessment and monitoring each workplace to ensure the effectiveness of the plan.
- Limiting and monitoring points of entry to settings where direct patient care is provided, as well as screening and triaging patients, clients, residents, delivery people and other visitors and non-employees.
- Providing personal protective equipment, ensuring physical distance for employees and installing physical barriers, as well as cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and equipment in accordance with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Covered employers are also required to screen each employee before each workday and shift, as well as notify certain employees within 24 hours when a COVID-19 positive person has been in the workplace. Covered employers are also required to report to OSHA each work-related COVID-19 fatality and each work-related COVID-19 inpatient hospitalization within 24 hours of learning about the inpatient hospitalization.
The ETS is effective as soon as it is published on the Federal Register, which is expected to be in the next few days. Employers must comply with most provisions within 14 days and the remaining provisions within 30 days. OSHA stated that when it determines that a “grave danger” from the virus no longer exists, or new information is available, it will update the ETS. OSHA also indicated that it would use its enforcement discretion to avoid citing employers who are making a good faith effort to comply with the ETS.
READ PROPOSED ETS