The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an "emergency temporary standard" on Thursday directed at health care workers who are most likely to come into contact with someone infected with coronavirus. Most of the requirements, which exempts fully vaccinated workers from masking, distancing or working behind barriers in certain situations, must be implemented within two weeks.
"Too many of our frontline health care workers continue to be at high risk of contracting the coronavirus," U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said in a statement. "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. Given the pace of vaccinations, this standard, along with the guidance OSHA, the CDC and other agencies have released, will help us protect frontline health care workers and end this pandemic once and for all."
Among the requirements, which apply to health care settings including hospitals, skilled nursing homes and home health care and other non-exempt facilities, employers must conduct a hazard assessment, have a written plan to mitigate virus spread, and provide some employees with N95 respirators and other personal protective equipment. Additionally, employers must ensure 6 feet of distance between workers, and when distancing is not possible erect barriers between employees where feasible.
The standard also requires employers to provide employees with paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from potential side effects, as well as allow those who have coronavirus or who may be contagious to work remotely or be separated from workers if possible, or be given paid time off up to $1,400 per week. Most businesses with less than 500 employees can seek reimbursement for these costs through the American Rescue Plan, according to a news release.
"This standard is necessary to give our healthcare workers deeply needed protections," Jim Frederick, acting assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, said. "This tailored standard allows OSHA to help the workers most in danger of contracting the virus, while the updated guidance will give other businesses across the country the information they need to help protect unvaccinated workers and continue mitigating spread in the workplace."