OSHA in June announced a rule outlining steps employers must take to protect workers from the risk of Covid-19, but it will apply only to the health care industry, not to other high-risk workplaces, as the Biden administration initially indicated.
“The science tells us that health care workers, particularly those who come into regular contact with the virus, are most at risk at this point in the pandemic,” Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh said on a call with reporters. “So following an extensive review of the science and data, OSHA determined that a health care specific safety requirement will make the biggest impact.”
The rule will require health care employers to provide protective equipment like masks, to screen and triage patients for the risk of Covid-19 and to ensure adequate ventilation and distancing, among other measures. It will also require those employers to provide adequate paid time off for workers to receive vaccinations and manage their side effects.
Fully vaccinated workers will not be required to wear masks and practice social distancing.
“OSHA has tailored the rule that reflects the reality on the ground, the success of the vaccine efforts, plus the latest guidance from C.D.C. and the changing nature of pandemic,” Mr. Walsh said on the call.
David Michaels, a head of OSHA during the Obama administration, said the C.D.C. guidance had made a broader OSHA rule more difficult to enact. “To justify an emergency standard, OSHA has to show there’s a grave danger,” Dr. Michaels said. “For that to happen, the C.D.C. would have needed to clarify its recommendation and say that for many workers, there remains a grave danger.”
Without such clarification, said Dr. Michaels, now a professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health, employer groups would probably have challenged any new OSHA rule in court, arguing that the C.D.C. guidance indicated that a rule was unnecessary.