- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will partially reopen the public comment period of its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard for healthcare and healthcare support workers in anticipation of developing a permanent standard, according to a notice to be published on The Federal Register.
- OSHA said it is seeking input on a variety of topics, such as how a future standard would define when an individual is "fully vaccinated"; whether requirements should be relaxed or eliminated based on vaccination status; the impacts of new and emerging variants and strains of the coronavirus, including the omicron variant, and other topics. The public comment period will close 30 days after the publication date.
- Additionally, OSHA will hold an informal public hearing on the potential rule beginning April 27. The hearing will be held virtually and will continue on subsequent days if necessary, OSHA said. Persons interested in testifying at the hearing must inform OSHA electronically within 14 days after publication of the notice.
OSHA's update is the first in months regarding the healthcare ETS. Last December, the agency announced it would withdraw the nonrecordkeeping portions of the ETS, though it recommended that healthcare employers "continue to implement the ETS's requirements in order to protect employees from a hazard that too often causes death or serious physical harm to employees."
The agency also announced this month an enforcement memorandum providing a short-term increase in the number of hospital and skilled nursing care facility inspections with a focus on those treating or handling COVID-19 patients. The three-month effort is running from March 9, 2022, to June 9, 2022.
Associations for healthcare industry employers pushed back against the ETS upon its announcement during the summer of 2021, with some asking for compliance deadline delays that would allow healthcare providers to implement its requirements, Healthcare Dive reported.
Organizations representing employees, however, have voiced support for the ETS. In December, the American Nurses Association issued a statement calling on OSHA to renew the ETS beyond its Dec. 21, 2021, expiration date. A statement the same day from National Nurses United, a labor union for registered nurses, outlined the need for a permanent standard.
"Without an eventual permanent standard, we will see more transmission of the virus, more hospitalizations, and more deaths from Covid-19," Bonnie Castillo, executive director of National Nurses United, said in its Dec. 21 statement. "Nurses and other health care workers have been putting their lives on the line since the pandemic began."
Against that backdrop, healthcare employers continue to face staffing shortages. A March survey by staffing firm Incredible Health found that more than a third of nurse respondents planned to leave their jobs by the end of 2022. Burnout and stress are a common concern, according to the survey. Across the healthcare industry, workers also continue to experience instances of workplace violence.
OSHA said it intends to seek data on elements of staffing during the public comment period as well, including studies or data on staffing retention.