Panel to OSHA: Reassess Before Proceeding with Infectious Disease Rule

A Small Business Advocacy Review (SBAR) Panel convened by OSHA advised the agency not to proceed with issuing a proposed rule on occupational exposure to infectious diseases until it has assessed the need for the rule for each potentially covered task and work setting. The panel, which comprises representatives of small business entities, questioned whether significant risk or significant occupational exposures were present in all the industries a standard might cover. 

The panel also recommended that OSHA review existing regulations and guidance on infection control in determining the need for a rule. If OSHA finds a rule is needed, the panel recommends that the agency consider including in the rule a statement that OSHA will deem employers following applicable guidelines, such as those issued by the CDC, to be in compliance with the rule. The panel also advised OSHA to consider a rule that would be focused solely on training.
Further, the panel urged OSHA to consider whether a non-regulatory approach could be devised that would be both a “reasonable alternative to a rule” and also meet OSHA’s requirement to protect workers.
OSHA first issued a request for information on occupational exposure to infectious agents in healthcare and related settings in May 2010. The agency held stakeholder meetings in 2011. This most recent step in the rulemaking process, the SBAR Panel, was completed last year.
According to OSHA, one of the reasons for considering an infectious disease rule is that its bloodborne pathogens standard does not address infectious diseases transmitted by other routes, such as contact, droplet, or airborne. OSHA also notes that while transmission-based infection control guidelines are readily available, they are not always consistently followed.
More information on OSHA’s infectious diseases rulemaking is available from the agency website.

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