June 10, 2021

OSHA to Issue COVID-19 ETS for Healthcare Settings

OSHA will issue an emergency temporary standard to protect healthcare workers from contracting SARS-CoV-2, the agency announced today. The ETS, which will be effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, focuses on workers in healthcare settings where suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are treated. During a media briefing this morning, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh told reporters that OSHA has tailored its rule to reflect “the reality on the ground, the success of the vaccine efforts, plus the latest guidance from CDC and the changing nature of the pandemic.”

The ETS is intended to protect workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities; emergency responders; home healthcare workers; and employees in ambulatory care settings. OSHA estimates that there are approximately 10.3 million workers in the healthcare establishments that will need to comply with the requirements of the standard, according to Jim Frederick, acting assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. Frederick described key elements of the ETS as ensuring that workplaces develop and implement a COVID-19 plan, that patient screening and management as well as standard and transmission-based precautions are in place, and that employers provide workers with appropriate personal protective equipment. Additional requirements address specific aerosol-generating procedures on persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, physical distancing and barriers, cleaning and disinfection, ventilation, and health screening and medical management of employees.

The ETS also requires paid time off for workers to get vaccinated and to recover from any side effects. Walsh explained that for many companies, this time off can be paid through a refundable tax credit under the American Rescue Plan that was passed earlier this year.

In addition to the ETS, OSHA has published new general industry guidance for employers and workers not covered by the standard. OSHA’s new guidance focuses on COVID-19 exposure risks to unvaccinated workers or otherwise at-risk workers, including those with medical conditions that may affect their ability to have a full immune response to vaccination.

The full regulatory text of the ETS is already available on OSHA’s website. The agency’s new guidance can also be found online.