Biden orders OSHA to explore new work safety standards for workers at risk of COVID-19

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President Biden called on OSHA to investigate if new emergency protections are needed to protect workers from COVID-19, a major ask among nurses unions who have criticized hospitals for lacking adequate personal protective equipment. (Wikimedia)

President Biden has called for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to improve workplace safety for frontline healthcare workers battling COVID-19.

Biden issued an executive order Thursday that included several policies OSHA must pursue on worker safety. The order comes as nurse unions have clamored for OSHA to require providers to give more protections for workers at high risk of contracting COVID-19.

Biden director OSHA to issue revised guidance to employers on workplace safety during the pandemic within the next two weeks.

“The federal government must take swift action to reduce the risk that workers may contract COVID-19 in the workplace,” the order reads.

The agency needs to decide whether any emergency temporary standards are needed and if so then the standards should be issued by March 15.

A new temporary workplace standard has been a major ask of the nurses union National Nurses United, which have said the standard is necessary to mandate that healthcare workers get optimal personal protective equipment and have safe staffing levels.

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The union has slammed facilities for making nurses reprocess single-use PPE like N95 masks to preserve low supplies.

Biden’s order also wants OSHA to consider if any emergency temporary standards put in place during the pandemic are working, including if new guidance on masks in the workplace are necessary. The workplace safety agency should also identify any changes that can be made to ensure equity in enforcement of any violations.

The agency must also create a new national program to focus enforcement efforts on violations that put the largest number of workers at high risk.

Biden issued a separate executive order on Thursday that sets up a pandemic testing board that will work to coordinate federal testing efforts. The board will look at any issues such as major testing shortages and how to boost testing for at-risk settings such as factories or long-term care facilities.

The order also calls for a program to explore issues with the public health workforce program. The program will explore how to bolster the public health workforce.