Home healthcare worker performs clinical test on patient

The emergency temporary standard (ETS) announced Thursday by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) includes home health workers. The ETS, which exempts home healthcare settings where employees are fully vaccinated, aims to protect healthcare workers from contracting COVID-19.

“Too many of our frontline healthcare workers continue to be at high risk of contracting the coronavirus,” Labor Department Secretary Marty Walsh said in a media release. ”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 healthcare services. Given the pace of vaccinations, this standard, along with the guidance OSHA, the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and other agencies have released, will help us protect frontline healthcare workers and end this pandemic once and for all.”

OSHA noted that it will update the standard, if necessary, to align with CDC guidelines and changes in the pandemic.

“This standard is necessary to give our healthcare workers deeply needed protections,” Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick said in the release. “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.”

The OSHA standard requires employers to ensure each employee wears a facemask indoors and when occupying a vehicle with other people for work purposes; keep people at least 6 feet apart when indoors; conduct hazard assessments and draw up a written plan to mitigate spread of the virus; and provide some employees with N95 respirators or personal protective equipment.

Employers also are required to provide healthcare workers paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees may be reimbursed through tax credits under the American Rescue Plan.

Exempt from the rule are home healthcare settings where all employees are fully vaccinated and all non-employees are screened prior to entry and people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are not present.

A study released last fall by the medical journal The Lancet found healthcare workers in the U.S. and U.K. at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 than the general population.