The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has published its Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 as an interim final rule in the Federal Register, allowing only until July 21 to receive comments and feedback.

“As of May 24, 2021, over 491,816 healthcare workers have contracted COVID-19, and more than 1,600 of those workers have died,” OSHA stated. “OSHA has determined that employee exposure to this new hazard, SARS-CoV-2 … presents a grave danger to workers in all healthcare settings in the United States and its territories where people with COVID-19 are reasonably expected to be present.”1

The publication makes the ETS effective June 21, 2025. Upon publication, employers must comply with most provisions within 14 days, but can take up to 30 days for requirements involving physical barriers, ventilation, and training.

“[H]ealth effects are particularly relevant to healthcare workers because there is evidence that [they] are more likely to develop more severe COVID-19 symptoms than workers in non-healthcare settings,” OSHA noted. “While the reason for this is not certain, one cause could be that healthcare workers are exposed to higher viral loads … because of the nature of their work often involving frequent and sustained close contact with COVID-19 patients.”

ETS Will Prevent Infections

Comments and attachments, identified by Docket No. OSHA-2020-0004, can be submitted electronically at www.regulations.gov, the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. All comments, including any personal information, are placed in the public docket without change and may be made available online at www.regulations.gov.

“The development of safe and highly effective vaccines and the ongoing nationwide distribution of these vaccines are encouraging milestones in the nation’s response to COVID-19,” the agency stated. “OSHA recognizes the promise of vaccines to protect workers, but as of the time of the promulgation of the ETS, vaccination has not eliminated the grave danger presented by the SARS-CoV-2 virus to the entire healthcare workforce. Indeed, approximately a quarter of healthcare workers have not yet completed COVID-19 vaccination.”

In a cost-benefit analysis, OSHA projects the ETS will prevent 295,284 COVID-19 infections in healthcare workers and save 776 lives at a cost of $3.9 billion.

REFERENCE

  1. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Occupational Exposure to COVID-19; Emergency Temporary Standard. Fed Reg 86;2376-32628. Docket No. OSHA-2020-0004. June 21, 2021.