OSHA announced it continues working towards issuing a final standard to protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 hazards, but will also consider its broader infectious disease rulemaking.
Since OSHA anticipates a final rule cannot be completed in a timeframe approaching the one contemplated by the OSH Act, it also announced it’s withdrawing the non-recordkeeping portions of the healthcare emergency temporary standard (ETS). Before we all collectively jump for joy, let’s pause and ponder the ramifications for dental practices, practically speaking.
- If your practice was adhering to (and should be continuing to adhere to) the following, your practice was and is exempt from the ETS:
“Screening all non-employees prior to entry…” and
“…People with suspected or confirmed COVID–19 are not permitted to enter those settings” [your office]
- OSHA stated it will continue to “vigorously enforce the general duty clause and its general standards—including the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Respiratory Protection Standards—to help protect healthcare employees from the hazard of COVID-19.We know that OSHA utilizes its general duty clause and refers to recommendations or best practices from other entities (such as the CDC, NIOSH, and ANSI), when OSHA’s own standards don’t address hazards in the workplace.
- The CDC has not changed its Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Healthcare Personnel During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic, which, among other things, recommends that clinicians wear respirators for aerosol-generating procedures and other procedures “that might pose higher risk for transmission if the patient has SARS-CoV-2 infection” in counties that have community transmission levels of “high” or “substantial.”
- As of this writing (June 14, 2022), 92% of the counties in the U.S. were listed with either “high” or “substantial” levels of community transmission. In Texas, 194 out of the 254 counties are listed as either “high” or “substantial.” Yesterday, I was in three different healthcare facilities in the Dallas area; all were still following the CDC recommendations (as one would expect).
- COVID infection numbers are still sky-high, and while the number of deaths attributed to COVID are still around 9,000 per month, the percentage of COVID cases that result in death have dropped significantly. Perhaps the biggest unknown right now are the effects of “long COVID” on people who had COVID and are still dealing with issues.
- A dental practice in Kentucky was fined $25,000 in connection with an open OSHA investigation that commenced last summer regarding the death of an employee who apparently contracted the virus—along with other employees in the office—from the practice owner.
Bottom line: COVID is morphing. Omicron variants are much less deadly, as a percentage; but they’re making up for lethality with the dramatic increase in the number of infections and cases of long COVID. As a practice owner and clinician, you and your staff can’t afford to take your collective feet off the gas. To do so leaves you with the same potential exposure as the practice owner in Kentucky.