Healthcare workers face a number of serious occupational safety and health hazards. These include (but are not limited to) bloodborne pathogens and biological hazards, potential chemical and drug exposures, waste anesthetic gas exposures, respiratory hazards, ergonomic hazards from lifting and repetitive tasks, laser hazards, workplace violence, hazards associated with laboratories, and radioactive material and x-ray hazards.
OSHA has been a part of the United States Department of Labor since 1970. Its mission is to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance. Employers who are covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) record-keeping rule must post a summary of 2020 work-related injury and illnesses in a noticeable place from Feb. 1 to April 30. https://www.osha.gov/recordkeeping
Guidance for COVID-19 exposures should be reviewed carefully:
Recording workplace exposures to COVID-19 https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/standards#temp_enforcement_guidance
COVID-19 can be a recordable illness if a worker is infected as a result of performing their work-related duties. However, employers are only responsible for recording cases of COVID-19 if all of the following are true:
- The case is a confirmed case of COVID-19 (see CDC information on persons under investigation and presumptive positive and laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19);
- The case is work-related (as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5); and
- The case involves one or more of the general recording criteria set forth in 29 CFR 1904.7 (e.g., medical treatment beyond first aid, days away from work).
Visit OSHA’s Injury and Illness Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements page for more information.
During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, OSHA has shared guidance to mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace and on January 29th provided stronger guidance in their ongoing publication: Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace. https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework
In this guidance are references to key elements including
- A “thorough hazard assessment to identify potential workplace hazards related to COVID-19” which should be part of your Emergency Preparedness Plan and referenced in your Facility Assessment.
- Respiratory Protection Program:
Respiratory protection program. This paragraph requires the employer to develop and implement a written respiratory protection program with required worksite-specific procedures and elements for required respirator use.
- Implementing protections from retaliation for workers who raise COVID-19 related concerns. The new guidance includes vaccine related information:
- Making a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees. Provide information and training on the benefits and safety of vaccinations.
- Not distinguishing between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not: Workers who are vaccinated must continue to follow protective measures, such as wearing a face covering and remaining physically distant, because at this time, there is not evidence that COVID-19 vaccines prevent transmission of the virus from person-to-person. The CDC explains that experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change recommendations on steps everyone should take to.
Remember, it is YOUR responsibility to understand the OSHA rules and requirements. If you aren’t comfortable with this information, get assistance through your Human Resource consultant or Employment Law attorney. Know what you need to know and ask for help so that you can be prepared and meet the letter of the law!
Stay the course, stay well, mask up, get vaccinated, and stay tuned!