Putting the (O)SHA back in OMG

By Steve MacArthur, Hospital Safety Consultant 

I’m sure you were right there with me last week pondering the potential impact of the Emergency Temporary Standard issued by our friends at the Big O (see the news release) in efforts to get ahead (and stay ahead) of COVID. As I travel, I’m not sure that this is going to be as successful as they’d like it to be. I still observe folks in airports, on public transportation, etc., who are surprised when they are reminded that masks are mandated in a lot of confined public environments. As somewhat of an editorial aside, I “get” that someone might forget to slide their mask back up after they’ve eaten, etc., but I don’t get the mindset that has masks buried at the bottom of their handbag, etc. I freely admit that my OCD slides to the fore when it comes down to mask wearing; when I’m traveling, the mask goes on in the car and doesn’t come off again until I get to my hotel room. I figure it’s worked well so far, so I’m going to stay the course for a while longer—maybe once we have a solid 12 months of vaccinations (and who knows when that might be…).

At any rate, under the ETS, covered employers must develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to choose to either be vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work.

The ETS also requires employers to do the following:

  • Determine the vaccination status of each employee, obtain acceptable proof of vaccination status from vaccinated employees, and maintain records and a roster of each employee’s vaccination status.
  • Require employees to provide prompt notice when they test positive for COVID-19 or receive a COVID-19 diagnosis. Employers must then remove the employee from the workplace, regardless of vaccination status; employers must not allow them to return to work until they meet required criteria.
  • Ensure each worker who is not fully vaccinated is tested for COVID-19 at least weekly (if the worker is in the workplace at least once a week) or within seven days before returning to work (if the worker is away from the workplace for a week or longer).
  • Ensure that, in most circumstances, each employee who has not been fully vaccinated wears a face covering when indoors or when occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes.

But in looking at all this stuff, I’m thinking healthcare (for the most part) has already embarked on this journey and when I started poking around the FAQs, FAQ 2J speaks very specifically to whether, in light of the existing Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard (29 CFR 1910.502), and the answer (at the moment; more on that in a bit) is no, the protection of healthcare workers is already in play based on the existing ETS. But the potential “twist” is that if the Healthcare ETS were to expire/no longer be in effect, etc., before the expiration of this latest ETS, then the protection of healthcare workers would shift over. I don’t know that anything is jumping out at me from a practical standpoint that might represent a gap of protection if that shift were to occur, but if someone has different take on this, I’d be pleased as punch if you’d share it with us.

Sooooo…I think we’re OK for the moment, at least in terms of regulatory expectations, but keep an eye on things as they shift in and out of view/focus. If I sense a sea-change, I will do my best to keep you informed.

At the risk of “dating” this post, I’d like to conclude this week’s offering with a shout out to the veterans of our Armed Services. Not that they don’t deserve a shout out every week, but it just seems important to “push” Veterans’ Day a little bit this year. We are all the better for your service and I thank each and every one of you!

About the Author: Steve MacArthur is a safety consultant with The Greeley Company in Danvers, Mass. He brings more than 30 years of healthcare management and consulting experience to his work with hospitals, physician offices, and ambulatory care facilities across the country. He is the author of HCPro's Hospital Safety Director's Handbook and is contributing editor for Healthcare Safety Leader. Contact Steve at stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com.

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