What’s an OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard?

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On June 17, 2021, OSHA officially filed an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for Healthcare in the Office of the Federal Register, and it became effective upon publishing on June 21, 2021. What is an ETS and what does all this mean for employers?

Under certain limited conditions OSHA has the authority to set an ETS when it is determined that a “grave danger” exists. As stated in the preamble, “For the first time in its 50-year history, OSHA faces a new hazard so grave that it has killed nearly 600,000 people in the United States in barely over a year, and infected millions more (CDC, May 24, 2021a). And the impact of this new illness has been borne disproportionately by the healthcare and healthcare support workers tasked with caring for those infected by this disease.” Adoption of new OSHA standards typically takes many years. An ETS is designed to take effect in a much shorter time frame and remain in effect until a permanent standard is adopted.

This is a General Industry standard, (29CFR 1910, Subpart U). It applies to healthcare settings where people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are reasonably expected to be present. The ETS establishes new requirements for employers who provide healthcare or health care support services. This includes skilled nursing homes and home healthcare. It may also apply to healthcare services provided at manufacturing facilities or other locations such as prisons. Additionally, it applies to healthcare support personnel such as medical billing or administrative support unless they fall under one of the many exceptions. According to the ETS Frequently Asked Questions page, “For example, the ETS does not apply to healthcare support services not performed in a healthcare setting (e.g., off-site laundry, off-site medical billing). OSHA has also published a one-page guidance document that is helpful in determining if your business is covered by the ETS.

The key elements of the ETS are included in this OSHA Subpart U Fact Sheet. Effected employers must comply with most provisions of the standard within 14 days, and with provisions involving physical barriers, ventilation, and training within 30 days. The ETS subparts include: 

  • 1910.502 – Healthcare: Except as otherwise provided in the standard, applies to all settings where any employee provides healthcare services or healthcare support services. 
  • 1910.504 – Mini Respiratory Protection Program: Addresses limited requirements for situations where respirators are used in accordance with specific provisions in 1910.502. 
  • 1910.505 – Severability: Provides that each section of Subpart U and each provision within those sections is separate and severable from the other sections and provisions. 
  • 1910.509 – Incorporation by Reference: Contains materials adopted as part of the ETS, including: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, consensus standards for personal protective equipment (PPE), and EPA’s list of approved disinfectants. 

Many employers have already adopted appropriate COVID-19 preventive measures and will find little more has to be done to comply with this standard. There are requirements for the creation of a COVID-19 Prevention Plan, so if your organization has not created a written plan an OSHA template is available to get you started. This template and all the other OSHA guidance documents can be found by clicking here

Looking for more assistance? On July 15, 2021, MEMIC is presenting a free webinar titled, “On the Front Line: Implementing OSHA’s COVID-19 Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard. A panel of safety experts will review the basic elements of the ETS and what effected employers must do to comply. The webinar is free, but registration is required, and space is limited. Click here to register today.