The U.S. Department of Labor is determined to continue rulings to protect healthcare workers from COVID-19. On June 21, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) adopted an emergency temporary standard (ETS) which aimed to protect workers in healthcare settings where COVID-19 patients were being treated. Since the date it was issued, OSHA stated that the ETS would remain in effect until a permanent standard was put in place. While the final rulemaking has taken longer than anticipated, OSHA announced that it was withdrawing the non-recordkeeping portions of the healthcare ETS in December 2021.
OSHA has now reopened the rule making record partially and is seeking comments on specific topics that relate to the development of a final standard to protect healthcare and healthcare support service workers from workplace exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
The agency is reopening the record and requesting new data and comments on the following topics:
- Alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations for healthcare infection control procedures.
- Additional flexibility for employers.
- Removal of scope exemptions.
- Tailoring controls to address interactions with people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
- Employer support for employees who wish to be vaccinated.
- Limited coverage of construction activities in healthcare settings.
- COVID-19 recordkeeping and reporting provisions.
- Triggering requirements based on community transmission levels.
- The potential evolution of SARS-CoV-2 into a second novel strain.
- The health effects and risk of COVID-19 since the ETS was issued.
The reopened record comes two months after the AFL-CIO, National Nurses United (NNU) and other unions petitioned a Court of Appeals to make the temporary standard a permanent rule. In January, National Nurses United’s executive director, Bonnie Castillo, RN stated that OSHA needed to get to work as soon as possible to protect American Workers.
“OSHA is charged with ensuring that employers create and maintain safe workplaces, and this delay in issuing a permanent standard puts the lives of nurses and other healthcare workers, patients, and our communities, in jeopardy,” said Castillo. “[…] Going to work should not mean putting your life and the lives of your loved ones in danger.”
According to OSHA’s press release, individuals who are interested in testifying at the hearing must submit their notice of intention to appear no later than 14 days after the publication of the Federal Register Notice. The virtual hearing is currently scheduled for April 27, 2022. Comments can also be submitted online under docket number OSHA-2020-0004. Written comments must be submitted by the deadline of April 22, 2022