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On June 21, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released emergency temporary standards that require healthcare employers to implement a COVID-19 plan that identifies and controls COVID-19 hazards in the workplace. OSHA is the federal administration that ensures safe and healthful working conditions for U.S. workers. Healthcare employers have until July 21 to comply with the new set of guidelines

According to OSHA, “healthcare employees face a grave danger from the new hazard of workplace exposures to SARS-CoV-2 except under a limited number of situations (e.g., a fully vaccinated workforce in a breakroom).”

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has infected more than 33.7 million individuals and claimed more than 600 thousand lives in the United States alone. Although it is estimated that nearly half of the U.S. population has been vaccinated, it is still unclear how effective the current vaccines will be against current and future virus variants.

COVID-19 is most commonly transmitted through large respiratory droplets emitted when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or exerts heavily. However, evidence has shown that the disease is also airborne, meaning that it spreads through tiny particles that linger in the air or travel across distances greater than 6 feet in an enclosed space.

The new OSHA guidelines seek to limit infection risk to unvaccinated patients and staff members at healthcare facilities. At any given time, one in 31 hospital patients have a healthcare-acquired-infection (HAI), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, recent medical journals estimate that one out of six COVID-19 cases are healthcare workers. Not only do these HAIs conceivably violate a healthcare provider’s commitment to “do no harm,” but they have led to billions of dollars in legal liabilities.

Most notably, the recent emergency guidelines from OSHA require hospitals and healthcare facilities to monitor, control and make necessary updates to their heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. These critical actions include ensuring that

  • Each HVAC system is used in accordance with the HVAC manufacturer’s instructions and its design specifications
  • The amount of outside air circulated through its HVAC system and the number of air changes per hour (ACHs) are maximized to the extent appropriate.
  • All air filters are rated Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 13 or higher, if compatible with the HVAC system (or, alternatively, rated at the highest compatible filtering efficiency)
  • All outside air intake ports are clean, maintained and cleared of any debris that may affect the function and performance of the HVAC system

In addition, the emergency standards include requirements for the use of hand sanitizer, airborne infection isolation rooms, cleanable barriers, and the number of entrances in a facility.

Healthcare employers that do not incorporate these new standards by July 21, 2021 will be in violation. For additional information, see the OSHA posting at the Federal Register or download the pdf.

Life Balance Technologies helps hospitals and other companies easily analyze airborne infection control conditions and effectively manage their HVAC systems. By streamlining the process for compliance, auditing, and reporting, we help reduce costs and save lives.