OSHA: Look for Final COVID Rule, Emerging Infectious Disease, Workplace Violence Standards

By Jay Kumar

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is focusing on healthcare safety with some of its upcoming standards, according to OSHA officials at a safety conference last week.

In addition to a final rule on COVID-19, the agency is working on standards covering emerging infectious diseases and workplace violence in healthcare, said OSHA’s Assistant Secretary of Labor Doug Parker in an address at the National Safety Council’s 2022 NSC Congress & Expo in San Diego.

“In 2020, we were faced with a whole new challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic was the healthcare challenge of a lifetime,” he said. “We must continue to look for emerging hazards.”

Although the timeline is not exactly, “we made a commitment to do it in six to nine months,” said Parker. The agency aims to get it done this fall and is on track, he added.

Also speaking at the conference, Andrew Levinson, director of OSHA’s Directorate of Standards and Guidance, said COVID regulations have taken up a lot of the agency’s time recently. “All of our work on COVID has made us slow down work on all our other projects.”

The COVID final rule is expected this fall, but it will eventually be replaced by an infectious diseases standard for the healthcare industry. Work will begin on that as soon as the COVID standard is finalized. Levinson said the infectious diseases standard would align with CDC guidance and cover not only COVID-19 and other airborne diseases, but also non-airborne diseases such as monkeypox and MRSA.

Another focus will be on workplace violence prevention in healthcare and social assistance, Levinson said. OSHA plans to get input from small businesses; no timeline is available for this standard yet. Topics in the potential draft standard to be considered by the agency’s Small Business Advocacy Review panel include:

  • A programmatic approach to workplace violence prevention
  • Workplace violence hazard assessments
  • Workplace violence control measures
  • Preventive training
  • Violent incident investigations and recordkeeping
  • Anti-retaliatory provisions
  • Approaches that avoid stigmatization of healthcare patients and social assistance clients

Levinson also said OSHA plans to finalize its update to the hazard communication standard in December or January. The current standard aligns with the third edition of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS); the final rule would align with the seventh edition of the GHS. The standard would update Safety Data Sheets and pictograms, as well as common terminology for international shipping.