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OSHA extends comment period for emergency temporary standard on COVID-19 focused on health care workers

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Washington — OSHA is extending until Aug. 20 the comment period on its emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 focused on health care workers.

Announced in a July 8 press release, the extension allows more time for stakeholders to review the ETS and collect any needed data or information. The comment period initially was set to end July 21.

According to a notice published in the June 21 Federal Register, covered employers had until July 6 to comply with the ETS (also known as Subpart U), except for paragraphs (i), (k) and (n). Those paragraphs cover physical barriers, facility ventilation and training, respectively, and have a compliance date of July 21.

“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 previous 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 disinfection, as well as ensure ventilation systems are used properly, among other steps.

The standard also mandates 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.”

Some employers, namely those with 500 or fewer employees, may get reimbursed for providing that paid time off via a tax credit made available in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 – signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11.

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