OSHA mandates standards to reduce occupational exposure to COVID-19 in hospitals
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently published “COVID-19 Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standards.” As a result, hospitals across the country, including Lakes Regional Healthcare, are taking steps to quickly meet the regulations. OSHA has strong enforcement authority to levy fines and close hospitals for non-compliance.
The standards were developed to limit healthcare workers’ occupational exposure to COVID-19. Hospitals were mandated to comply with most of the provisions on July 6, and comply with additional requirements by July 21. The ETS were outlined in a 44-page document, and hospitals were required to maintain plans on file as of the effective date. Lakes Regional Healthcare’s plans include every person, regardless of vaccination status, to wear FDA-approved masks in all areas with the exception of “well-defined areas” such as break rooms, individual offices and non-patient care work areas. Other plans include providing physical barriers, such as hanging plexiglas, in locations where social distancing is not possible, ensuring chairs in common areas are situated to accommodate social distancing and ensuring a specific number of air exchanges and a certain degree of filtration occurs in the facility's HVAC system.
“We’re happy many people in our community have received the COVID-19 vaccine and realize they may be frustrated to have to continue to wear a mask while they’re on our campus,” said Lakes Regional Healthcare President and CEO Jason Harrington. “We are committed to keeping our staff, patients and visitors safe and hope everyone understands the importance of our compliance with these regulations. It was our hope to begin to loosen some of these restrictions as COVID positivity and inpatient COVID cases declined. Unfortunately, given recent upticks due to the new variant and these regulations, we are unable to do so.”
OSHA said the ETS is to be effective for six months. During that time, OSHA will engage in a public rule making process. Following this process, OSHA may finalize the ETS as a permanent standard, with or without modification, based on public comments.