The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently established a new emergency temporary standard (ETS) that is currently in effect to protect health care workers against occupational exposure to COVID-19. OSHA has prepared a flowchart to help employers determine whether their workplace is covered by the ETS and, if the ETS applies, a checklist to implement the standard. We would expect that the majority of allergists practice in exempted facilities as described below, but it is important to review to make sure your practice is in compliance.
The ETS does not apply to all health care facilities/services. OSHA exempted the following health care facilities from these requirements:
- Nonhospital settings providing health care services on an outpatient basis (e.g., physician offices) where all nonemployees are screened prior to entry and individuals with suspected or confirmed COVID–19 are not allowed to enter.
- Well-defined hospital settings providing health care services on an outpatient basis where all employees are fully vaccinated and all nonemployees are screened prior to entry and individuals with suspected or confirmed COVID–19 are not allowed to enter.
The ETS requires nonexempt health care employers to adhere to certain workplace requirements, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Developing and implementing a COVID-19 plan, as described by the ETS.
- Limiting and monitoring points of entry to settings where direct patient care is provided.
- Providing and ensuring that employees wear a face mask when indoors and when occupying a vehicle with other people for work purposes, subject to certain exceptions.
- Installing cleanable or disposable solid barriers at each fixed work location outside of direct patient care areas where each employee is not separated from others by at least 6 feet of distance, unless it is not feasible.
- Ensuring that each employee is separated from others by at least 6 feet when indoors (unless such physical distancing is not feasible for a specific activity). If it is not feasible to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet, the employer must ensure that the employee is as far apart from others as feasible.
- Screening employees before each workday and each shift.
- Adhering to certain cleaning and disinfection standards.
- Providing employees with paid leave for vaccination and any side effects experienced following vaccination.
- Ensuring that all employees receive training on COVID-19.
- Developing and implementing policies and procedures to adhere to Standard and Transmission–Based Precautions in accordance with the CDC’s “Guidelines for Isolation Precautions.”
- Informing employees of their rights to the protections established by the ETS.
- Communicating to employees that employers may not discharge or discriminate against an employee for exercising their rights under the ETS or for engaging in actions required by the ETS.
- In addition to the exceptions stated above, the ETS does not apply to telehealth services performed outside of a setting where direct patient care occurs. It also does not apply to health care support services (e.g., off-site medical billing) not performed in a health care setting. Moreover, in well-defined areas where there is no reasonable expectation that any individual with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 will be present, the ETS’ requirements pertaining to personal protective equipment, physical distancing, and physical barriers do not apply to employees who are fully vaccinated. The ETS is currently in effect. However, OSHA has indicated that it is willing to use its enforcement discretion where employers can show they have made good faith efforts to comply with the requirements but have been unable to do so. For more detailed information regarding the ETS, please refer to OSHA’s website. The Advocacy Council – we have you covered!