Originally published in June of last year, and as reported by Ballard Spahr here, the OSHA Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) set safety requirements for health care and health care support service workers in settings where people with COVID-19 are reasonably expected to be present. The ETS expired after six months, on December 21, 2021.
OSHA had previously announced that it intended to issue a permanent standard, or set of rules, to replace the expired ETS. Just this week, OSHA reopened the rulemaking record partially and scheduled an informal public hearing to seek comments on specific topics that relate to the development of a final standard to protect healthcare and healthcare support service workers from workplace exposure to the COVID-19 virus. OSHA will also reopen the regulation for public comment from March 23, 2022, through April 22, 2022.
The agency is reopening the rulemaking record to allow for new data and comments on topics, including the following:
- Alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for healthcare infection control procedures.
- Additional flexibility for employers.
- Removal of scope exemptions.
- Tailoring controls to address interactions with people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
- Employer support for employees who wish to be vaccinated.
- Limited coverage of construction activities in healthcare settings.
- COVID-19 recordkeeping and reporting provisions.
- Triggering requirements based on community transmission levels.
- The potential evolution of SARS-CoV-2 into a second novel strain.
- The health effects and risk of COVID-19 since the ETS was issued.
With the announcement, OSHA reaffirmed its plans to publish a permanent COVID-19 safety standard for the healthcare industry. The announcement also makes clear that “employers must continue to comply with their obligations under the General Duty Clause, Personal Protective Equipment and Respiratory Protection Standards, as well as other applicable OSHA standards to protect their employees against the hazard of COVID-19 in the workplace.” Ballard Spahr’s Labor & Employment Group counsels employers regarding the changing requirements of workplace safety and compliance.