OSHA announced Dec. 27 that it’s withdrawing the non-recordkeeping portions of its COVID-19 Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard (Healthcare ETS) and considering a broader infectious disease standard instead.
However, the COVID-19 log and reporting provisions will remain in effect as they were adopted under a separate provision of the OSH Act.
Going forward, the agency plans to “vigorously enforce the general duty clause (GDC) and its general standards, including the PPE and Respiratory Protection standards, to help protect healthcare employees from the hazard of COVID-19,” according to a statement on OSHA’s Healthcare ETS webpage.
Compliance with GDC
OSHA states that it will accept compliance under the terms of the Healthcare ETS as satisfying related obligations under the GDC, PPE and Respiratory Protection standards.
That means continuing to follow the terms of the ETS is the easiest way for healthcare employers to protect workers and ensure compliance with the GDC.
This is because “the terms of the Healthcare ETS remain relevant in general duty cases in that they show that COVID-19 poses a hazard in the healthcare industry and that there are feasible means of abating the hazard.”
Because of COVID-19’s Delta and Omicron variants, OSHA “strongly encourages all healthcare employers to continue to implement the ETS’s requirements in order to protect employees from a hazard that too often causes death or serious physical harm to employees.”
What was in the ETS
The Healthcare ETS required hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, emergency responders, home healthcare workers, and employees in certain ambulatory care settings to:
- conduct a hazard assessment and have a written plan on mitigating virus spread
- provide certain employees with N95 respirators and other PPE
- ensure 6 feet of distance between workers or erecting barriers between employees, if distancing isn’t possible, and
- provide employees with paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects.
Fully vaccinated workers are exempt from masking, distancing and barrier requirements when in well-defined areas where there’s no expectation anyone present is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19.
Infectious disease standard
Rulemaking for an infectious disease standard covering all industry sectors is planned for April 2022, covering airborne, droplet and non-bloodborne contact diseases, according to law firm Jackson Lewis.
The proposed infectious disease standard is listed on the agency’s Fall 2021 Regulatory Agenda which states OSHA “is examining regulatory alternatives for control measures to protect employees from infectious disease exposures to pathogens that can cause significant disease.”