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HICprevent

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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

OSHA Issues COVID-19 Reg to Protect Healthcare Workers

June 10th, 2021

By Gary Evans, Medical Writer

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued an emergency temporary standard to protect healthcare workers from COVID-19, putting regulatory teeth into recommended practices by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“OSHA has determined the most impactful action we can take at this time is to issue an emergency temporary standard that is focused on healthcare settings where workers are most likely to come into contact with someone carrying the virus,” Jim Frederick, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, said at a June 10, 2021, press conference. “This includes workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and other high-risk areas in healthcare settings.”

OSHA analysis determined that healthcare workers are in “grave danger” from COVID-19, but did not broach the controversial subject of vaccine mandates some hospitals are adopting. Hospitals and other facilities under the regulation are required to “provide reasonable time and paid leave for vaccinations and vaccine side effects.”

All healthcare facilities with more than 10 employees must develop and implement a written COVID-19 plan that “includes a designated safety coordinator with authority to ensure compliance, a workplace-specific hazard assessment, involvement of non-managerial employees in hazard assessment and plan development/implementation, and policies and procedures to minimize the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to employees.”

While essentially codifying CDC recommendations, Frederick warned that OSHA will continue to respond to complaints of unsafe working conditions and conduct inspections to ensure compliance with the standard.

“Throughout the pandemic, healthcare workers in these settings continue to be the source of the highest number of complaints OSHA has received,” he said. “We will continue inspections under our national emphasis program to hold bad actors accountable for failing to protect employees. When we open up an inspection, we are showing up to investigate.”

The OSHA standard is effective upon publication in the Federal Register, which Frederick said will be as soon as possible. At that point, employers must comply with most provisions within 14 days, but can take up to 30 days for requirements involving physical barriers, ventilation, and training.

Other key provisions in the OSHA standard include:

  • Standard and Transmission-Based Precautions: Develop and implement policies and procedures to adhere to Standard and Transmission-Based precautions based on CDC guidelines.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE): Provide and ensure each employee wears a facemask when indoors and when occupying a vehicle with other people for work purposes; provide and ensure employees use respirators and other PPE for exposure to people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, and for aerosol-generating procedures on a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
  • Ventilation: Ensure that employer-owned or controlled existing HVAC systems are used in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions and design specifications for the systems and that air filters are rated Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 13 or higher if the system allows it.
  • Training: Ensure all employees receive training so they comprehend COVID-19 transmission, tasks and situations in the workplace that could result in infection, and relevant policies and procedures.

For more on this story, see the next issue of Hospital Infection Control & Prevention