New Workplace Safety Standards Set by Biden Administration

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New Workplace Safety Standards Set by Biden Administration
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On Thursday June 10th, the U.S. Labor Department released new workplace safety standards for healthcare facilities across the country. Even though the announcement came three months after the administration’s self-imposed deadline, this order is still considered an emergency temporary standard or ETS for healthcare settings. Although no official federal rules have been issued for COVID safety in other industries, labor unions across the board are pushing for clear regulations, and soon.

The new ETS for healthcare facilities requires the following precautions in any facility where COVID patients are treated:

  • Mandatory mask-wearing
  • Mandatory social distancing
  • Mandatory cleaning and disinfecting
  • Mandatory notification of workers and by workers whenever someone has been exposed to infection
  • Mandatory paid time off for workers who need time to recover after receiving the vaccine

However, it should be noted that the standards are vague when it comes to fully vaccinated workers; for example, fully vaccinated workers may be exempt from some of the above requirements if they are in a defined area with “no reasonable expectation” of being exposed to the virus. While these standards are currently only applicable to healthcare environments, other industries suspected to contribute to high transmission rates such as meatpacking facilities, grocery stores, and crowded retail environments will likely receive similar orders soon.

These standards have come into criticism from both sides, but are largely more lax than expected.

Some critics of the new workplace safety rules believe these guidelines are too inflexible to deal properly with a pandemic where the science is constantly evolving. Other critics have expressed distress at the delay in any standards being issued at all, furthermore alarmed that the standards did not include a mandatory vaccination rule. Healthcare workers including the National Nurses United union have expressed concern over the lack of mandated air ventilation and filtration systems to prevent airborne exposure. However, ventilation/filtration systems and other potential COVID safety measures were regarded warily by businesses concerned about the cost of installing significant changes.

This ETS can remain in place for up to six months before being re-evaluated.

If after six months the ETS data reveals a need for the standards to be made permanent, it can potentially be done so then. However, until then other industries and labor unions are continuing to push for their own industry-specific safety standards and guidelines. The current ETS focused on healthcare facilities is thought to affect more than 10 million workers, the approximate number of people working in environments that are considered medical or healthcare-related in some sense. These environments include hospitals, nursing homes, care facilities, and more.

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