A continued focus on masking and social distancing are central to a new emergency temporary standard (ETS) designed to protect healthcare workers from contracting COVID-19 as the country emerges from the year-long pandemic. Issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the standard targets healthcare workers most likely to have contact with someone infected with the virus.

Settings affected by the ETS include those where employees provide healthcare or healthcare support services, including skilled nursing homes and home healthcare. The ETS requires non-exempt facilities to conduct a hazard assessment and have a written plan to mitigate virus spread. Additionally, it mandates that healthcare employers provide some employees with N95 respirators or other personal protective equipment, and employers must ensure six feet of distance between workers.

The new rules also call for employers to provide time off for employees to get vaccinated and to recover from any side effects. This can be reimbursed though a refundable tax credit. Fully vaccinated workers are exempt from masking, distancing, and barrier requirements when in well-defined areas where there is no reasonable expectation that any person with confirmed or suspected coronavirus will be present.

“This standard is necessary to give our healthcare workers deeply needed protections,” said Jim Frederick, acting assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “This tailored standard allows OSHA to help the workers in most danger…, while the updated guidance will give other businesses across the country the information they need to help protect unvaccinated workers and continue mitigating spread in the workplace.”

The temporary standard is effective immediately on publication in the Federal Register. Employers must comply with most provisions in 14 days and the rest in 30 days.  OSHA will use its enforcement discretion to avoid citing employers who miss a compliance deadline but are making a good faith effort to comply.

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