Unions petition OSHA to issue permanent COVID-19 safety standards for healthcare workers

A national coalition of unions is petitioning a federal court to compel the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration to adopt permanent COVID-19 protections for healthcare workers and keep a temporary emergency temporary standard for healthcare workers in place until that happens.

The petitioners include National Nurses United; AFL-CIO; American Federation of Teachers; American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; as well as the New York State Nurses Association and Pennsylvania Association of Nurses and Allied Professionals.

The unions petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit after OSHA rescinded some protections for healthcare workers as it works to issue a final rule.

OSHA's emergency temporary standard took effect in June. On Dec. 27, the agency announced that nonrecordkeeping portions of the emergency temporary standard for healthcare workers — which includes rules regarding ventilation, physical barriers and other safety-related issues — will no longer be enforced, but rules regarding logs and recordings will remain in effect. The agency said it plans to issue a final rule.

OSHA also said it will continue to enforce the general duty clause and standards, including those pertaining to personal protective equipment and respiratory protection standards. 

The unions said they petitioned the court to urge the agency to issue a permanent standard for healthcare occupational exposure to COVID-19 "aimed at protecting the life and health of millions of nurses and other front-line healthcare workers throughout the United States in grave danger from the deadly COVID-19 pandemic" and to retain and enforce the emergency temporary standard until it is properly superseded by the permanent standard.

The unions argue that failure to retain the existing emergency temporary standard and adopt a permanent rule violates the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Their petition states that "when OSHA determines an emergency situation exists (as it did here) and issues an emergency standard, that emergency standard must stay in effect until a final rule is issued, which must be done within six months of publication of the emergency standard."

Read the full petition here

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