The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Thursday announced an emergency temporary standard to protect health care workers from catching and spreading the coronavirus, as well as general guidance for other employers.
“Too many of our frontline health care workers continue to be at high risk of contracting the coronavirus,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh in a news release announcing the standard. “As I said when I came to the department, we must follow the science. This standard follows the science, and will provide increased protections for those whose health is at heightened risk from coronavirus while they provide us with critical health care services.”
The emergency standard applies to workplaces where confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients receive care, such as nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, home health care agencies, emergency response (e.g. ambulances) and clinics. It requires them to:
- conduct a hazard assessment and have a written plan to mitigate virus spread.
- provide certain employees with N95 masks or other personal protective equipment.
- ensure 6 feet of distance between workers, or erect barriers between employees.
- give workers paid time off to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and to recover from any side effects.
- require employees who have COVID-19 or who may be contagious to either work remotely, be separated from other workers or be given paid time off up to $1,400 per week. (Most businesses with fewer than 500 employees can receive tax credit reimbursement, the U.S. Department of Labor said.)
- comply with most provisions within 14 days, and with the remaining provisions within 30 days. OSHA may choose not to cite employers who don’t hit the deadline but make a good faith effort to comply, it said.
There are some exemptions for health care providers that screen out patients for COVID-19, OSHA said.
Fully vaccinated workers do not have to wear masks or follow distancing and barrier requirements “when in well-defined areas where there is no reasonable expectation that any person will be present with suspected or confirmed coronavirus,” OSHA said.
OSHA also issued updated guidance for employers that follows similar themes of masking, social distancing, supporting employee quarantine and isolation and eliminating financial barriers that may keep some workers from getting vaccinated.
That guidance emphasizes protecting workers who are unvaccinated, and workers in higher risk industries such as meat processing, manufacturing, fishing, grocery and retail.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthy workplaces.