Healthcare employers need to be on top of making sure they follow the rules when making new employees – even temporary employees – wear N95 respirator masks.
OSHA issued two citations to federally qualified health center Center for Health, Education, Medicine and Dentistry in Lakewood, N.J. and a temporary staffing agency that supplied nurses, Homecare Therapies for administering flu shots and COVID-19 tests. Both organizations failed to administer medical evaluations for employees, or provide fit tests before making them wear the masks.
The FQHC received one of the most serious citations because it was its second infraction after an employed pediatrician contracted COVID-19 and died from complications last year. The Lakewood facility owes $273,064 to the agency, while the staffing agency owes $13,000.
"I would anticipate that OSHA is going to stringently enforce these standards, so it's critical that all employers have a written COVID-19 plan and policy to respond to this, especially with the Delta variant," said Kevin Hess, an attorney at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC who works with health providers on OSHA issues.
OSHA often will conduct inspections after healthcare providers report COVID-19 cases among employees. The agency has also gone after providers that didn't conduct fit tests on new types of N95 masks while the manufacturing issues forced many to change the supplies they'd used.
Employers must also be wary of fit testing one model and then receiving another that hasn't been fit tested, Hess said.
These citations don't relate to the Emergency Standard Order issued in June that will impact an estimated 10.3 million workers. Those rules require healthcare employers to provide paid time off for staff to be vaccinated and to install physical barriers in spaces where social distancing isn't possible.
Hess's firm is working to get employers up to speed on these new rules since inspections are expected to begin soon.
"It gets as in depth as making sure that your HVAC system is running as efficiently as possible," Hess said. "[Health providers] need to have maintenance records for their HVAC systems, so they can at least show that they were checking it; there's a lot of things like that are that are included in these that employers may or may not be aware of."
Neither cited health provider responded to a request for comment.