Nurses urge that OSHA adopts permanent Covid-19 and infectious disease protections for health care workers
National Nurses United (NNU) today urged the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to adopt a permanent OSHA standard on Covid-19 in health care workplaces, building on the emergency temporary standard adopted last June. According to nurses, the Covid-19 health care ETS has been an important step forward in ensuring safe working conditions for frontline health care workers by mandating optimal PPE and other protections. But it has also been a stopgap, and nurses say they are calling for ongoing protections.
“The Covid-19 health care ETS has saved lives during the ongoing crisis, but this pandemic will not be over by December. Nurses urge that OSHA adopt a permanent standard on Covid-19 without delay,” said NNU President Deborah Burger, RN.
The Covid-19 health care ETS has meant mandatory requirements for employers, with penalties for those who violate those requirements, on infection control protections in health care settings. Registered nurses noted that this has been the first OSHA emergency temporary standard since 1983, and it was promulgated thanks to unrelenting union nurse advocacy over the extensive opposition of the hospital industry and other corporate interests. Letting it expire without adopting a permanent standard would mean more transmission of the virus, more hospitalizations, and more deaths from Covid-19.
“Nurses and other health care workers haven’t had one day’s rest for this entire pandemic. We stood up on the front lines of Covid to save lives when we were needed most, including in the days when our employers, with no repercussions, told us that we could wear bandanas as PPE. It was a major step forward when OSHA issued the Covid-19 health care ETS in June, and it is imperative that OSHA maintain these lifesaving protections by issuing a permanent Covid-19 standard to ensure nurses and other health care workers can protect our patients,” said Burger. “Nurses call on OSHA to do the right thing for patients, health care workers, and communities across the country by issuing a permanent standard as soon as possible and ensuring that there is no lapse in the enforcement of the temporary standard before the permanent standard is issued.”
Nurses say the adoption of a permanent OSHA standard on Covid-19 in health care workplaces should be built on current ETS requirements, the precautionary principle, and updated scientific knowledge of the virus. Such a standard should include:
- All health care employers must have written infection control safety and implementation plans, developed in consultation with non-management employees and their representatives.
- All nurses and other frontline health care workers exposed to Covid-19 must be provided optimal personal protective equipment against aerosol transmission of the virus, including respiratory protection, eye protection, protective clothing, and gloves.
- Protective requirements on notification of health care employees exposed to Covid-19 in the workplace, and provision of pay and benefits for those who must take time off as a result of exposure or infection.
- Mandates on screening and testing of patients and visitors, mask wearing, physical distancing, and ventilation in the workplace.
“This is still a dangerous and deadly pandemic. People in the United States continue to be infected and die. And nurses and other frontline caregivers remain in danger. It is essential that OSHA’s emergency temporary standard be made permanent so that nurses and other health care workers are protected,” said Burger. “We can’t let our guard down now.”
As of this week, 458 RNs have died of Covid-19, among 4,547 health care worker deaths overall, according to NNU tracking data. Since the data has not been collected in many places, a full accounting may never be known. At least 1,037,083 health care workers have been infected.
National Nurses United is the nation's largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses, with more than 175,000 members nationwide.