More than a year into the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it will issue an emergency temporary standard to protect healthcare workers from contracting COVID-19. OSHA announced the new temporary standard in addition to new COVID-19 general industry guidance, which unlike the standard is voluntary. Both the standard and guidance align with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance.
Who the new standard impacts
The emergency temporary standard establishes new requirements for settings where employees provide healthcare or healthcare support services. The standard is aimed at protecting workers facing the highest risk of contracting coronavirus – those working in healthcare settings where suspected or confirmed coronavirus patients are treated. This includes employees in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities; emergency responders; home healthcare workers; and employees in ambulatory settings. There are some exceptions for workplaces or portions of workplaces where all employees are fully vaccinated, all non-employees are screened prior to entry and people with suspected COVID-19 are not permitted to enter.
What the new standard entails
The new temporary standard will require non-exempt facilities to conduct a hazard assessment and have a written plan to mitigate virus spread. Some healthcare employers will be required to provide some employees with N95 respirators or other personal protective equipment. Covered employers must ensure six feet of distance between workers or, in situations where this is not possible, erect barriers between employees where feasible.
Among other requirements, the standard dictates that covered employees be provided with time off to get vaccinated and to recover from any vaccine side effects. Covered employees that have COVID-19 or who may be contagious must work remotely or otherwise be separated from other workers if possible, or be given paid time off of up to $1,400 per week.
Under the temporary standard, fully vaccinated workers are exempt from masking, social distancing and barrier requirements when in well-defined areas where there is no reasonable expectation that anyone with a suspected or confirmed case of the virus will be present.
Deadlines for compliance
The emergency temporary standard will be effective immediately once it is published in the Federal Register. Non-exempt employers will need to comply with most provisions within 14 days and the remaining provisions within 30 days.
Guidance for other industries
In addition to announcing the emergency temporary standard, OSHA released updated general industry guidance to prevent the virus from spreading in workplaces and protect unvaccinated workers. This guidance has a special emphasis on industries noted for prolonged close contacts like meat processing, manufacturing, seafood, grocery and high-volume retail.
Once it is issued, the emergency temporary standard may be in place for up to six months. OSHA said it will update the standard and guidance as needed, based on the evolving pandemic and CDC guidance.
If you have questions about the new emergency temporary standard or OSHA compliance in general, or if you are looking to contest an OSHA citation or prepare for the OSHA inspection process, give us a call. The OSHA lawyers at Sheehy Ware and Pappas have deep expertise in all kinds of OSHA matters ranging from compliance to OSHA lawsuits.