On June 21, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released an emergency temporary standard (ETS) rulemaking with the goal of protecting health care workers from occupational exposure to COVID-19 in settings where people with COVID-19 are reasonably expected to be present.
As an ETS, the rule because effective when published on June 21, 2021. Health care employers are required to be compliant with the sections of the rule on July 6, 2021, or July 21, 2021, depending on the provision.
NRHA feels the timeline for compliance with this regulation is onerous. Additionally, we believe the 916-page ETS is overly burdensome for rural providers, requiring health care employers to go above and beyond what many have already put in place following CDC guidelines such as social distancing barriers, patient screening, and a wholistic COVID-19 plan.
Some requirements to note within the ETS include:
- Providers must develop and implement a COVID-19 plan
- Providers must limit and monitor points of entry to mitigate COVID-19 exposure
- Providers must ensure employees wear facemasks when indoors and when operating a vehicle with another person (this includes employees who are not directly caring for patients) and other restrictions on PPE
- Providers must require employees stay at least six feet apart from all other people when indoors except in situations where that is not possible
- Employer must install cleanable or disposable solid barriers at each fixed workstation located outside of direct patient care areas, where each employee is not able to be separated by all other people by at least six feet
- Provisions regarding proper ventilation with their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to ensure that the amount of outside air circulated is maximized
The ETS applies to a number of settings where suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are treated, including hospitals, home health care works, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, EM, and ambulatory care facilities. It does not apply to settings where all employees are full vaccinated, non-employees are screened prior to entry and suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are not present.
NRHA believes these regulations listed above will be particularly difficult for rural providers to comply with. Additionally, we have already heard from several members that they believe the facemask and social distancing requirements will run contrary to both the science and the current state and Federal guidelines for individuals who have been vaccinated. Further, implementing overly burdensome cleaning guidelines, installing physical barriers, and ensuring proper ventilation will be particularly difficult for rural providers already operating on slim margins. Health care providers could have used the PRF allocations to implement these kinds of regulations over the past 15-months, but instead OSHA implemented this rulemaking after the deadline for the majority of rural providers use of the funds.
NRHA plans to submit comments on this ETS ahead of the July 21, 2021, deadline. In our comments, NRHA will urge OSHA to remove, or at a minimum delay, this regulation from taking effect. Health care providers have done an outstanding job of keeping their patients and employees safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding a burdensome regulation like the ETS proposes will not protect patients or employees. Rather it will pull limited staff and financial resources in directions that could be better used providing health care to patients during the ongoing pandemic. Further, NRHA believes the rule is being implemented at an unnecessary point in the pandemic. Providers have had COVID-19 protocols in place for over 15 months. Adding new regulations from OSHA at this time is not needed for patients and employers to feel safe in the health care setting.
NRHA encourages members to comment on this regulation if you believe it will be overly burdensome to comply with, especially given the tight timeline turnaround. OSHA released a subsequent message saying they have determined that no changes to the ETS are necessary at this time, so we believe comments expressing the need for removal, or delay, of the regulation will be important to OSHA’s decision-making process. NRHA will share our comments for the regulation in the coming days so you can read them as a guidepost in crafting your own comments.
You can find the rule posted on Regulations.gov here. Additionally, OSHA has posted related summaries, fact sheets, and compliance assistance materials and tools here. Comments are due to the Federal Register by July 21, 2021.