COVID-19 has changed business standards for safety and operations, especially in sectors dealing directly with the virus. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently issued an Emergency Temporary Standard, or ETS, with new standards for protecting healthcare workers from the risk of infection.
While many industry professionals have become accustomed to dealing with COVID precautions in medical settings, the mandate is significant because it is the first time OSHA has imposed pandemic mitigation best practices as requirements on employers. While other employer provisions and responsibilities in response to the pandemic have been developed, the scope of the ETS stipulations is specifically limited to healthcare employers.
The new regulations apply to employees providing healthcare services or healthcare support services at inpatient treatment hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities and outpatient clinics where suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases are treated. Home health workers and paramedics are also covered employees, but the ETS does not extend to workers in other specialty practices like dentist offices or pharmacies.
The list of changes to implement may include logistics already in place as part of day-to-day work standards but their inclusion formalizes related standards. New guidelines include implementation of a COVID-19 plan for each workplace including formal disinfectant routines per the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hazard assessment, patient screening and management, recordkeeping, the use of personal protective equipment, respirators and aerosol-generating procedures on persons with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, time off for vaccination and vaccination-related recovery.
The ETS will go into effect upon publication in the Federal Register. Covered employers will have 14 days from the date of publication to implement any necessary changes for compliance with a demonstrable good faith effort.
While publication is expected any day, it is likely regulations will continue to adapt and change in light of changing circumstances throughout the pandemic. Human resources professionals and clinic managers should check back for formal publication and additional guidance, which will be updated at www.osha.gov.
* This article first appeared in The Journal Record on June 25, 2021, and is reproduced with permission from the publisher.