Press Release

Nurses Welcome Movement on Federal Workplace Safety Standard, Urge Quick Approval as Pandemic Surges

Nurse holds sign "Protect Essential Workers"

National Nurses United (NNU) today welcomed the Biden Administration’s decision to take an important step toward issuing an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to ensure safe workplaces for nurses, and other health care and essential workers. NNU called for quick final approval with the pandemic continuing to surge.

The Department of Labor sent the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ETS to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) today for a regulatory review. OIRA is part of the Office of Management and Budget within the Executive Office of the President.

NNU will formally request a meeting with OIRA to urge quick approval of the new standard and to reiterate its demand that the ETS be comprehensive in scope. It should be based on the precautionary principle and fully recognize the latest science on aerosol transmission of the virus to ensure that nurses and other health care workers will actually be protected once the standard is implemented, said NNU.

“We are grateful to the Biden administration for taking this long-delayed step toward finally promulgating an emergency temporary OSHA standard, in the face of this deadly pandemic that has already killed nearly 600,000 people in America, the most in the world,” said NNU President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN.

The OSHA ETS was mandated by President Biden in an executive order on January 21, 2021 with a deadline of March 15.

“We strongly urge the Biden Administration to ensure there are no further delays, and that the ETS gets formally promulgated before May 12, which marks International Nurses Day, the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale. That would be especially fitting given the horrific toll this pandemic has taken on nurses and all health care workers, which is why the ETS is so critically important,” said NNU President Deborah Burger, RN.

As of April 23, at least 3,758 health care workers, including 387 RNs, have died of Covid-19. Since the data has not been collected in many places, the full accounting may never be known.

The exploding crisis in Michigan, where hospitals are overwhelmed, infections are rapidly rising among young people, and Covid deaths are up 219 percent since early March “clearly demonstrated the pandemic is far from over,” said Burger. Just last week, leaders of the Michigan Nurses Association, an NNU affiliate, met with Michigan Congress members to reinforce the call for issuance of the ETS.

“From day one of this pandemic, we’ve seen far too many hospitals failing to take the necessary infection control measures to protect caregivers and patients, with the expectation that they would face no sanction by the federal government. The new ETS is essential to hold them accountable, protect those who care for patients, and to help reduce the continuing spread of the virus,” Triunfo-Cortez added.

NNU will also be closely watching to see if the new ETS will require respiratory protection and other measures to prevent workers from becoming infected through aerosol transmission of the virus.

In February, NNU and 44 allied unions and organizations—representing more than 13 million members and their communities—called on the CDC to update its Covid-19 guidance and submitted a petition with over 10,000 signatures, including scientific experts, urging the CDC to fully recognize Covid-19 aerosol transmission.

Similarly, more than a dozen medical experts signed a letter to the White House in mid-February calling for immediate action to address inhalation exposure risks in order to bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control.

While Covid-19 vaccines are an important public health tool to combat the pandemic, the reality is that workplace protections remain necessary, regardless of vaccination status.

“For most of the year, the Trump administration ignored the calamity occurring to nurses, other health care workers, and workers in industries across the country, who were put in grave danger without the safety protections they needed,” Triunfo-Cortez said.

NNU urged Trump’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to enact an ETS as early as March 4, 2020, warning of the escalating pandemic and the “utmost importance that healthcare employers provide the fullest protections for nurses and other healthcare workers, especially when the hazard is a novel infectious disease.” That request was ignored.

“The shocking, and avoidable, number of infections and deaths — turning hospitals into super spreader hot spots with little accountability for employers who maintained unsafe working conditions — is the terrible result of that abject failure,” said Burger. “A strong ETS will save lives, both inside and outside our workplaces. It is urgent that the Biden Administration complete its regulatory review with all deliberate speed. Lives hang in the balance.”