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OSHA releases emergency temporary standard on COVID-19 for health care workers

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Washington — OSHA has issued an emergency temporary standard on COVID-19 that focuses on health care workers, as well as updated guidance for other workplaces and additional resources.

The ETS, also known as Subpart U, will go into effect once it’s published in the Federal Register. At press time, a publication date had not been announced. Covered employers will need to comply with some of the ETS’s provisions within 14 days of its publication, and 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,” the agency says in a press release.

The ETS applies to “settings where any employees provide health care or health care support services,” such as hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Some exceptions apply, however, including “non-hospital ambulatory care settings” where non-employees are screened for COVID-19 before entering and individuals suspected of having or confirmed to have COVID-19 are not allowed to enter.

OSHA has published a flowchart to help employers determine if their workplace is covered by the ETS.

The standard requires covered facilities to have a COVID-19 plan (in writing if an employer has more than 10 employees) that includes a designated safety coordinator with the “authority to ensure compliance.” Also required: Conducting a workplace-specific hazard assessment, monitoring and limiting points of entry in areas where direct patient care is provided, and developing and implementing policies and procedures to limit the transmission of the disease.

Workers in facilities covered under the ETS must be supplied with N95 respirators or other personal protective equipment when they’re indoors, in a vehicle with other people for work purposes, or around people who are suspected of having or confirmed to have COVID-19. Their employers must also ensure workers remain 6 feet apart, or erect “cleanable or disposable solid barriers” when that’s not feasible.

Employers will need to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting, as well as ensure ventilation systems are used properly, among other steps.

The standard also provides that workers receive paid time off if they become sick, when they receive a vaccine or if they need to recover from any side effects from a vaccine. Employees who contract COVID-19 or 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.”

During a virtual press conference, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh noted that some employers (those with 500 or fewer employees) have an opportunity to get reimbursed for providing that paid time off via a tax credit made available in the American Rescue Plan – signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11.

OSHA also updated its guidance for workplaces not covered by the standard. That guidance focuses on protections for unvaccinated or other at-risk employees.

“We will continue to work with CDC and other federal partners to continue to update industry-specific guidance going forward,” acting OSHA administrator Jim Frederick said during press conference. “OSHA will also continue providing employers with compliance assistance to keep their workers safe and healthy, including assistance on how to implement the emergency temporary standard in health care.

“The pandemic is still evolving and OSHA will continue to monitor vaccination progress, virus variants and other factors that will guide the agency’s ongoing efforts to ensure that workers are protected from the virus while they are on the job.”

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