Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has withdrawn the “non-recordkeeping” portions of the healthcare emergency temporary standard that it had announced in June, the agency said Monday evening, promising to “work expeditiously to issue a final standard.”
The rule’s COVID-19 log and reporting provisions remain in effect, however, and OSHA said that it will continue to “vigorously enforce the general duty clause and its general standards, including the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Respiratory Protection Standards, to help protect healthcare employees from the hazard of COVID-19.” The respiratory protection standard applies to those providing care to people with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.
OSHA adopted the COVID-19 healthcare emergency temporary standard in June, requiring assisted living communities and other healthcare settings to conduct hazard assessments and have written plans in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The workplace safety rules also required healthcare employers to provide some employees with N95 respirators and other PPE. Additionally, the standard included social distancing, employee screening, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
Monday, OSHA said that it was withdrawing the non-recordkeeping parts of the standard because the agency did not think that it could complete a final rule in a timeframe called for by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Under that act, according to OSHA, “an ETS [emergency temporary standard] is effective until superseded by a permanent standard — a process contemplated by the OSH Act to occur within 6 months of the ETS’s promulgation.”
The standard had been adopted June 21, more than six months ago.
While the agency works on a final rule and “considers its broader infectious disease rulemaking,” it “strongly encourages all healthcare employers to continue to implement the ETS’s requirements in order to protect employees from a hazard that too often causes death or serious physical harm to employees.”
“Continued adherence to the terms of the healthcare ETS is the simplest way for employers in healthcare settings to protect their employees’ health and ensure compliance with their OSH Act obligations,” OSHA said in the announcement.
The agency said it plans to publish a notice in the Federal Register to implement Monday’s announcement.
The COVID-19 healthcare emergency temporary standard is separate from OSHA’s COVID-19 vaccination and testing emergency temporary standard, announced Nov. 4, which requires employees of companies with 100 or more workers to be vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering. OSHA previously said that it plans to begin enforcing that standard’s requirements Jan. 10, although the Supreme Court subsequently announced that it will hear arguments about that standard, as well as one from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, on Jan. 7.
Legal experts have said that senior living communities and other healthcare settings that were subject to OSHA’s COVID-19 healthcare standard were exempt from its COVID-19 vaccination-and-testing standard.