OSHA has issued new safety rules to protect healthcare workers against the coronavirus.
The agency’s emergency temporary standard focuses on healthcare workers who are most likely to come in contact with someone infected with the virus.
The temporary standard establishes new requirements for workplaces where employees provide healthcare or healthcare support services.
This includes employees in hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities, as well as emergency responders, home healthcare workers, and people who work in ambulatory care settings where suspected or confirmed coronavirus patients are treated.
There are some exemptions for healthcare providers who screen out patients who may have COVID-19.
“This standard follows the science and will provide increased protections for those whose health is at heightened risk from coronavirus while they provide us with critical healthcare services," U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in a statement.
Given the slow pace of vaccinations, Walsh said the standard is needed to “help us protect frontline healthcare workers and end this pandemic once and for all.”
Under the standard, healthcare facilities with 10 or more employees must conduct a hazard assessment and have a written plan to reduce virus spread.
It requires healthcare employers to supply some employees with N95 respirators or other personal protective equipment.
Employers covered by the standard must also ensure six feet of distance between workers. In situations where that’s not possible, employers must erect barriers between workers where feasible.
The standard also encourages employers to limit and monitor points of entry to settings where direct patient care is provided, and to continue enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
The standard exempts fully vaccinated workers from masking, distancing, and barrier requirements when in well-defined areas where there is no reasonable expectation that anyone will be present with suspected or confirmed coronavirus.
The standard also requires covered employers to provide workers with paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects.
Covered employees who have the virus or who 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.
For most businesses with fewer than 500 employees, paid leave may be reimbursed through tax credits in the American Rescue Plan.
OSHA said it will update the standard, if needed, to align with CDC guidelines and any changes in the pandemic.
OSHA also issued updated guidance to help protect workers in other industries, including those who remain unvaccinated.
OSHA said this updated guidance has a special emphasis on industries known for prolonged close contacts between workers such as meat processing, manufacturing, seafood, grocery, and high-volume retail.
Employers must comply with most provisions within 14 days of the June 5 issuance of the temporary standard and with the remaining provisions within 30 days.
OSHA said it 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 standard.
For more information, contact CBIA’s Phillip Montgomery (860.244.1900).