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OSHA Issues Emergency Temporary Standard on COVID-19

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to protect health care workers from contracting COVID-19.

The COVID-19 ETS aims to protect workers facing the highest COVID-19 hazards — those working in health care settings where suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are treated. This includes employees in hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities; emergency responders; home health care workers; and employees in ambulatory care facilities.

The ETS is one standard with multiple sections, all contained in 29 CFR 1910 Subpart U. The key elements of the ETS are summarized in an OSHA fact sheet and include:

  • developing and implementing a COVID-19 plan for each workplace, which must be in writing if there are more than 10 employees;
  • designating workplace safety coordinator(s) knowledgeable in infection control principles and practices;
  • conducting a workplace-specific hazard assessment;
  • implementing patient screening and management strategies;
  • developing and implementing standard and transmission-based precautions;
  • providing and ensuring employees wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when indoors and when occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes;
  • providing and ensuring employees wear respirators and other PPE for exposure to people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and for aerosol-generating procedures on a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19;
  • ensuring physical distancing and installing physical barriers;
  • following standard practices for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces;
  • ensuring appropriate ventilation and maintenance of HVAC system(s);
  • implementing employee health screening and medical management policies;
  • providing time and paid leave for vaccinations and vaccine side effects;
  • providing training to ensure employees understand disease transmission and relevant policies;
  • informing employees of anti-retaliation rights;
  • maintaining no cost to employees for implementing these requirements;
  • for offices with more than 10 employees, establishing a COVID-19 log of all employee instances of COVID-19; and
  • reporting to OSHA each work-related COVID-19 fatality (within eight hours of learning about the fatality), and each work-related COVID-19 inpatient hospitalization (within 24 hours of learning about the inpatient hospitalization).

The ETS exempts fully vaccinated workers from masking, distancing, and barrier requirements when in well-defined areas where there is no reasonable expectation that any person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 will be present.

The ETS is effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register. Employers must comply with most provisions within 14 days and with the remaining provisions within 30 days. OSHA will use its enforcement discretion to avoid citing employers who make a good faith effort to comply.

For more information, see OSHA’s summary, along with FAQs and a flow chart to determine if your workplace is covered by the COVID-19 ETS.

Additionally, OSHA announced new general industry guidance to help employers in other industries protect unvaccinated workers, with a special emphasis on other industries noted for prolonged close contacts, including meat processing, manufacturing, seafood, and grocery and high-volume retail.

Visit the America’s Essential Hospitals coronavirus resource page for more information about the pandemic.

Contact Senior Director of Policy Erin O’Malley at eomalley@essentialhospitals.org or 202.585.0127 with questions.

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About the Author

Maryellen Guinan is a principal policy analyst at America's Essential Hospitals.

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