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OSHA considers changes to health care ETS

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is weighing several changes to the health care Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) as it advances toward a permanent rule on COVID-19 protocols.

OSHA is seeking stakeholder feedback on the potential changes, and notes in its public notice that no final decisions have been made.

Among the changes OSHA is considering:

  • Whether to remove COVID-19 specific infection control measures in areas where health care employees are not reasonably expected to encounter people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. This change may include an “outbreak provision” that would trigger a broader set of infection control measures.
  • Whether to relax masking, barrier and distancing requirements for vaccinated workers or in health care settings where a high percentage of staff are vaccinated, as well as whether to limit requirements for exposure notification for vaccinated employees.
  • Whether it is appropriate to align its final rule with some or all of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations that have changed since the ETS was issued in June 2021. OSHA references isolation and return-to-work guidance as two examples.
  • Whether to link regulatory requirements to measures of local risk, such as the CDC’s community transmission scale or the COVID-19 community levels scale.
  • Whether to restate various provisions as broader requirements without the level of detail included in the original ETS and providing a “safe harbor” enforcement policy for employers who are in compliance with CDC guidance applicable during the period at issue.

Other changes that OSHA is considering include:

  • Whether the scope of the final standard should cover employers regardless of screening procedures for non-employees and/or vaccination status of employees to ensure that all workers are protected to the extent there is a significant risk.
  • Whether to increase support for employees seeking vaccination or boosters, including paid time up to four hours, including travel time, for employees to receive a vaccine and paid sick leave to recover from side effect. OSHA stresses it is not considering a vaccine mandate.
  • Whether to include construction workers employed in health care settings.
  • Whether to update COVID-19 log requirements, which have remained in place after the rest of the ETS expired. OSHA is proposing to cap the record retention period for the log at one year from the date of the last entry.
  • Whether to incorporate any future strains of the COVID-19 virus into requirements under this standard.

A virtual public hearing will be held April 27, 2022. Additional information on how to access the informal hearing will be posted when available at https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/healthcare/rulemaking.

See the submission to the Federal Register at https://public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2022-06080.pdf.