As the pandemic winds down and cases of COVID-19 continue dropping in the United States, new rounds of regulatory changes should be expected as part of the return to normalcy. Among the most recent are new OSHA guidelines for healthcare workers per the U.S. Labor Department. In this blog, we will examine some of the main points of this new guidance.
For complete details, we recommend readers go to the OSHA website’s full guidance page.
Summary of Changes
The primary goals of these changes are as follows:
- Focus protection on those who are unvaccinated and/or are otherwise categorized as “at-risk” workers
- Encourage COVID-19 vaccination among healthcare workers (it’s important to note that certain vaccinated individuals can still be considered “at-risk,” as defined in the next section of this blog)
- Add links to new guidance with the most up-to-date content
The main takeaway, as quoted from the OSHA website, is that “Unless otherwise required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, most employers no longer need to take steps to protect their fully vaccinated workers who are not otherwise at-risk from COVID-19 exposure. This guidance focuses only on protecting unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in their workplaces (or well-defined portions of workplaces).”
Who Qualifies as “At-Risk”?
According to the OSHA website, at-risk workers (which includes those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or are vaccinated but still at risk for complications due to COVID-19 infection) are determined as follows:
Some conditions, such as a prior transplant, as well as prolonged use of corticosteroids or other immune-weakening medications, may affect workers' ability to have a full immune response to vaccination. See the CDC's page describing Vaccines for People with Underlying Medical Conditions, and further definition of People with Certain Medical Conditions. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), workers with disabilities may be legally entitled to reasonable accommodations that protect them from the risk of contracting COVID-19 if, for example, they cannot be protected through vaccination, cannot get vaccinated, or cannot use face coverings. Employers should consider taking steps to protect these at-risk workers as they would unvaccinated workers, regardless of their vaccination status.
What Practices/Employers Need to Know
There are eleven general items that employers/practices need to know. This list offers only the basic descriptions of each, and readers should again refer to the OSHA website for complete details:
- Grant paid time off for employees to get vaccinated.
- Instruct any workers who are infected, unvaccinated workers who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and all workers with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home from work to prevent or reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
- Implement physical distancing for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in all communal work areas.
- Provide unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers with face coverings or surgical masks, unless their work task requires a respirator or other PPE.
- Educate and train workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in language they understand.
- Suggest that unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests wear face coverings, especially in public-facing workplaces such as retail establishments, if there are unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in the workplace who are likely to interact with these customers, visitors, or guests.
- Maintain Ventilation Systems. Improving ventilation is a key engineering control that can be used as part of a layered strategy to reduce the concentration of viral particles in indoor air and the risk of virus transmission to unvaccinated workers in particular.
- Perform routine cleaning and disinfection. If someone who has been in the facility within 24 hours is suspected of having or confirmed to have COVID-19, follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations.
- Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths.
- Implement protections from retaliation and set up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards.
- Follow other applicable mandatory OSHA standards.
As the pandemic moves away from heavy restrictions and instead toward a new post-COVID normal, stay tuned by subscribing to this blog for updates on regulatory changes, security updates, new compliance measures, telehealth legislation and beyond.
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