The Department of Labor has finally released its Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) for workers in healthcare settings. Managed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), the ETS goes into effect upon publication to the Federal Register, and will remain in effect until OSHA determines COVID-19 is no longer a risk to the healthcare workforce or new information dictates that the Department of Labor release an amended ETS.
Coming in at 900 pages, the ETS provides extensive guidance to employees and facilities working with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home health care facilities, and of course emergency responders, hospitals, and employees in ambulatory care facilities.
The ETS constitutes a new standard added to the General Industry standards as Subpart U to 29 CFR § 1910.500 et seq. Once the regulations are published to the Register, covered employers must comply with most provisions within 14 days, but will have 30 days to comply with the provisions involving ventilation, physical barriers, and training. The ETS requires covered employers with more than 10 employees to develop and implement written COVID-19 plans. These plans, among other things, must (i) designate workplace safety coordinator(s); (ii) include comprehensive workplace-specific hazard assessments; (iii) seek the input and involvement of non-managerial employees and representatives; (iv) monitor each workplace to ensure ongoing effectiveness of the plan; and (vi) include policies and procedures to minimize the risk of transmission.
The ETS also requires healthcare providers to take steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 by limiting and monitoring points of entry in settings where direct patient care is provided; screening and triaging patients, clients, residents, delivery people and other visitors and non-employees entering the setting for symptoms of COVID-19; and implementing patient and employee management strategies aimed at current CDC best practices. Accordingly, Healthcare employers are required to screen each employee for symptoms, pay for any COVID testing the employer may require, provide reasonable time and paid leave for vaccinations and vaccine side effects, and put in place a system for the monitoring, removal, and return of infected employees.
The ETS’s barrier and ventilation requirements are also extensive. Employers are required to provide PPE and enforce its proper use, including the use of respirators, facemasks, and other PPE in accordance with standard and transmission-based precautions. The Standard requires employers, in non-patient care areas where a 6-foot distancing protocol cannot be enforced, to install either cleanable or disposable solid barriers. It also requires employers to ensure minimum standards of ventilation throughout the build (including air filters rated MERV 13 or higher) and to enforce social distancing protocols of 6 feet or greater at all times.
The points above highlight some of the new requirements of the ETS. For more information on the new requirements, exceptions to the standard, and best practices, reach out to your favorite BurnsBarton attorney.