On June 10, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a mandatory workplace safety rule requiring employers to take specified steps to protect workers from COVID-19.  However, the rule applies only to health care settings.  Referred to as an emergency temporary standard (ETS), the rule exempts fully vaccinated workers from masking, distancing, and barrier requirements when in well-defined areas where there is no reasonable expectation that any person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 will be present.

OSHA has also updated its Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace guidance for workplaces that are not covered by the ETS.  These are voluntary guidelines for employers outside of the health care industry.  For more detail on these guidelines, see our COVID-19 Update: OSHA Issues Emergency Workplace Rules Applicable to Health Care.

ETS COVID-19 Plan Requirements

The ETS requires employers to develop and implement COVID-19 plans (in writing when an employer has more than 10 employees) that include a designated safety coordinator with authority to ensure compliance, a work-specific hazard assessment, involvement of non-managerial employees in hazard assessment and plan development/implementation, and policies and procedures to minimize the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to employees.  More information can be found on the OSHA COVID-19 Healthcare ETS website.

Additional ETS Mandates

Along with the COVID-19 plan, among other things, the ETS states that:

  • Employers must provide and ensure that each employee wears a face mask when indoors and must provide and ensure that each employee uses a respirator and other PPE when in contact with a person with confirmed or suspected COVID-19;
  • Employees must maintain physical distance and employers must provide physical barriers when six feet of physical distance is not possible;
  • Workplaces must follow standard practices for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and equipment in accordance with CDC guidelines;
  • Employees must undergo daily health screenings;
  • Patients and other visitors must be screened upon entry; and
  • Employers must provide reasonable time and paid leave for vaccinations and vaccine side effects.

For more detail on the requirements of the ETS, see the OSHA fact sheet and OSHA ETS FAQs.

Effective Date

The ETS is effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register.  Employers will be required to comply with the ETS within 14 days, and with provisions involving physical barriers, ventilation and training, within 30 days.  Guidance states that OSHA will use its enforcement discretion for employers who are making a good faith effort to comply with the ETS.

OSHA has stated that it will continue to monitor COVID-19 trends and will update its guidance, as appropriate.

For further information, see our COVID-19 Update: OSHA Issues Emergency Workplace Rules Applicable to Health Care.

*Many thanks to summer associate Elyssa Diamond in preparing a draft of this blog post.

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