WASHINGTON — OSHA submitted its permanent standard on COVID-19 for the healthcare industry to the White House Office of Management and Budget for final review on December 7.
The review by the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is one of the final steps in the regulatory process prior to the publication of the final rule in the federal register. The timeline for completing the review is unclear.
OSHA has been working on a permanent standard on COVID-19 that focuses on healthcare workers for almost a year since it withdrew the non-recordable portions of a temporary emergency standard on December 27. To put this in perspective, the average timeline for a standard from OSHA is about seven years, according to a 2012 study by the Government Accountability Office.
Also uncertain is what the final standard will contain, but it may reflect the ETS. The ETS applied to “environments where employees provide healthcare or healthcare support services” such as: B. Hospitals, nursing homes and facilities for assisted living. Some exceptions have been made for “out-of-hospital outpatient care facilities,” where non-employees are screened for COVID-19 before entering and people suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 are not allowed to enter.
When the ETS was released in June 2021, OSHA released a flow chart to help workplaces determine if they are covered by the regulation.
The ETS required covered entities to have a COVID-19 plan (in writing if an employer had more than 10 employees) that included a designated safety coordinator with “authority to ensure compliance.” Also required: Conducting a workplace-specific hazard assessment, monitoring and limiting points of entry into areas where direct patient care is provided, and developing and implementing policies and procedures to limit transmission of COVID-19.
Workers in facilities covered by the ETS were required to be provided with N95 respirators or other personal protective equipment when indoors, in a vehicle with others for work purposes, or in the vicinity of anyone suspected of having COVID -19 had or was confirmed to have COVID-19. Their employers had to ensure workers stayed 6 feet apart, or erect “cleanable or disposable solid barriers” when that was not feasible.
Among other things, employers had to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting and ensuring ventilation systems were being used properly.
The ETS also asked employers to give workers paid leave if they fell ill, received a vaccine or had to recover from side effects of a vaccine. Employees who contracted or were contagious with COVID-19 were required to work remotely or “otherwise be separated from other workers where possible or receive paid time off of up to $1,400 per week.”
In a Dec. 8 press release, National Nurses United President Deborah Burger commended OSHA for “delivering on its commitment” and asked OIRA to complete the review as soon as possible.
“Protecting nurses and other healthcare workers is paramount as we face an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations alongside high and increasing hospitalizations for influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV),” Burger said. “The pandemic is not over yet. We need an enduring standard to ensure healthcare employers protect all healthcare workers so they can do their jobs safely and patients get the care they need.”