OSHA rule to protect healthcare workers now in effect

By Melissa Busch, DrBicuspid.com associate editor

June 22, 2021 -- The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) emergency temporary standard that protects healthcare workers, including some dental practitioners, from occupational COVID-19 exposure is now in effect. Nonexempt employers have until July 6 to comply with most provisions.

OSHA published the emergency temporary standard as an interim final rule in the Federal Register on June 21. The interim final rule aims to protect workers facing the greatest risk of exposure, including those working in hospital settings and in places that treat patients suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19.

While most dental professionals are exempt from the rule, affected employers must comply with most provisions by July 6. The remainder of the provisions must be followed by July 21, according to the publication.

"During the period of the emergency standard, covered healthcare employers must develop and implement a COVID-19 plan to identify and control COVID-19 hazards in the workplace," the document states.

OSHA first released the more than 900-page emergency temporary standard on June 10. The agency drafted the document to address inadequacies it discovered when conducting enforcement efforts during the pandemic. The significant obstacles it encountered indicated that current standards and regulations were insufficient in protecting healthcare workers from exposure to COVID-19, according to the interim rule.

If OSHA publishes the emergency temporary standard as a final rule in its current form, dental practices providing services in hospital settings or treating patients with COVID-19 must comply with the new provisions. This includes practices that perform emergency treatment on patients with symptoms of or who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Mary Govoni, RDH, CDA, a consultant and certified OSHA coach.

However, the interim final rule does not apply to most dental practitioners as it is currently written. The document exempts employers in non-hospital-based care settings that screen patients for COVID-19 and deny entry to people diagnosed with or suspected of having COVID-19.

OSHA still expects dental settings, including exempt practices, to follow and enforce the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health Care Settings and the CDC Guidance for Dental Settings During COVID-19. Additionally, the interim rule requires every dental practice, regardless of setting, to have a COVID-19 plan and conduct a workplace-specific hazard assessment. Numerous other requirements for nonexempt employers are also outlined in the interim rule.

The agency is currently seeking comments on the emergency temporary standard before publishing the document as a final rule. The public can submit written comments about any aspect of the standard and whether it should become a final rule on Regulations.gov. All submissions must be sent by July 21 and include "Docket No. OSHA-2020-0004."


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