More than 40 organizations, unions urge OSHA to extend protections for healthcare workers

More than 40 organizations, including unions, and more than 6,300 individuals have signed a petition urging the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to make its emergency temporary standard permanent for healthcare workplaces.

The petition was delivered last Thursday, and the standard is set to expire Tuesday. It was put in place in July, when OSHA determined existing standards and regulations were insufficient to protect health workers facing the highest risks associated with COVID-19 due to the nature of their work on the front lines.

National Nurses United (NNU), along with six other national unions plus the AFL-CIO and North America's Building Trades Unions, several state and local unions and dozens of public health, occupational health and safety and nonprofit organizations across the country signed the petition.

The standard requires (PDF), among other things, that employers develop a COVID-19 and disinfection protocol plan, engage in patient and employee health screening, provide personal protective equipment and install physical barriers in the workplace.

“Letting these protections expire without adopting a permanent standard would mean more transmission of the virus, more hospitalizations, and more deaths from COVID-19. 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,” the petition read.

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The petition also requested OSHA issue a broader standard to protect healthcare workers from exposure to similar diseases in the future.

"Nurses in hospitals in a large swath of states are once again being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients and it is critical that the vital protections instituted last June are not allowed to lapse,” NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN, said in an announcement. “This is essential to protect frontline caregivers and to ensure that our hospitals do not become disease vectors,”

According to data collected by NNU as of last week, 476 registered nurses have died of COVID-19.

"COVID-19 is not expiring on Dec. 21, neither should OSHA's ETS. That's why we are demanding a permanent OSHA standard,” said Debra Coyle of the NJ Work Environment Council in a statement. “Our healthcare heroes deserve workplace protections."