Hospitals to OSHA: Do not finalize COVID-19 standard for healthcare workers

The American Hospital Association is calling on the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration not to finalize its emergency temporary COVID-19 standard for healthcare workers.

Hospitals have helped ensure that healthcare workers are protected during the pandemic and that the latest evidence-based practices and policies are followed, the group wrote in an April 22 letter to OSHA. The American Hospital Association also said hospitals are more committed than ever to maintaining front-line workers' health and safety.

"While we acknowledge and appreciate OSHA's consideration of additional flexibility for employers and other potential changes to the Occupational Exposure to COVID–19 in Health Care Settings interim final rule, we continue to oppose the establishment of new regulations that are not fully aligned with the CDC's evolving evidence-based guidance," the group wrote.

The group also said in the letter that it "strongly believe[s] that an inconsistent and overly strict OSHA COVID-19 healthcare standard is not necessary" given constantly evolving, science-based CDC guidance and recommendations, CMS' vaccination requirement and existing OSHA general standards.

Additionally, finalization of OSHA's emergency temporary COVID-19 standard for healthcare workers "would cause confusion and will ultimately lower hospital employees' morale and worsen unprecedented personnel shortages in hospitals," the American Hospital Association wrote.

"It is essential to a well-functioning healthcare system that only one set of science-based standards be applied to healthcare providers, and that these standards be aligned across federal agencies," the group said.

On Dec. 27, the agency announced that non-record-keeping portions of the emergency temporary standard for healthcare workers — which includes rules regarding ventilation, physical barriers and other safety-related issues — would no longer be enforced, but rules regarding logs and recordings would remain in effect. Meanwhile, healthcare unions have pushed for OSHA to finalize the rule.

OSHA in March partially reopened the rulemaking record and scheduled an online public hearing on a final COVID-19 standard for healthcare workers. At the time, the agency said it reopened the rulemaking record to allow for new data and comments on topics such as alignment with the CDC's infection control recommendations, additional flexibility for employers, record-keeping and reporting provisions related to the virus, and employer support for workers who want to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

OSHA requested additional comments on these topics as it develops a final rule and scheduled an online hearing for April 27.

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