OSHA reopens limited comment on COVID-19 healthcare workers standard

by A.J. Plunkett (aplunkett@decisionhealth.com)

OSHA is asking for new comments on proposed revisions to a possible standard to protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 exposure after getting pushback on the original. You can also put your name in to testify at an informal hearing.

The revisions also open the door for the OSHA standard to potentially cover more than just the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Announced as an interim final rule last June and with designs to enforce it immediately as an emergency temporary standard (ETS), OSHA indicated it wanted to eventually make the rule permanent. At the end of December, however, facing a deadline for the regulatory process to make it permanent, OSHA pulled back on all but the recordkeeping sections of the ETS.

Still with a goal of making COVID-19 protections for healthcare workers permanent, OSHA on March 23 published a new request for comments in the Federal Register on changes it was proposing to the original ETS.

The announcement asks for input on several sections, including how to match up its requirements with CDC recommendations for worker protections that are updated frequently as more is understood about the often-deadly virus.

It is also asking for comments on items such as protections for construction workers working inside the building but are not employed by the hospital, relaxing requirements concerning vaccinated workers, and flexibilities for employers.

OSHA also seeks feedback on what coronaviruses should be covered under the standard.

Under a section titled, “Evolution of SARS-CoV-2 into a Second Novel Strain,” OSHA notes that “it is possible that a future variant of SARS-CoV-2 will have sufficient genetic drift to be designated another novel coronavirus strain but still results in a disease that is similar to the current illness (e.g., a hypothetical “COVID-22”).”

“OSHA is considering specifying that this final standard would apply not only to COVID-19, but also to subsequent related strains of the virus that are transmitted through aerosols and pose similar risks and health effects. OSHA seeks comment on this approach and alternatives to addressing the potential for new strains related to SARS-CoV-2,” according to the request for comment.

Because it is not a full proposal but reopening comments on the earlier interim final rule, the comment period is limited to 30 days, meaning comments will be closed on April 22, 2022.

An informal hearing will be held virtually, starting on April 27, and could last more than one day, says OSHA. To testify at the hearing, “interested persons must electronically submit their Notice of Intention to Appear (NOITA) by April 6, 2022.”

Additional information on how to access the informal hearing will be posted, said OSHA, “when available at https://www.osha.gov/​coronavirus/​healthcare/​rulemaking.”

Read the full request for information and submit written comments by going to Docket No. OSHA-2020-0004 online here, and following the provided information below:

“You may submit comments and attachments, identified by Docket No. OSHA-2020-0004, electronically at www.regulations.gov, which is the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Follow the instructions online for making electronic submissions. After accessing “all documents and comments” in the docket (Docket No. OSHA-2020-0004), check the “proposed rule” box in the column headed “Document Type,” find the document posted on the date of publication of this hearing notice, and click the “Comment Now” link. When uploading multiple attachments to www.regulations.gov, please number all of your attachments because www.regulations.gov will not automatically number the attachments. This will be very useful in identifying all attachments in the preamble. For example, Attachment 1—title of your document, Attachment 2—title of your document, Attachment 3—title of your document. For assistance with commenting and uploading documents, please see the Frequently Asked Questions on www.regulations.gov.”


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