Lawmakers press OSHA for permanent COVID-19 standard and to reinstall protections

A coalition of 115 House members is pressing the Biden administration to issue permanent protections for healthcare workers from contracting COVID-19.

The House lawmakers wrote to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) last week calling for the agency (PDF) to make a permanent standard for health worker COVID-19 protections. The move comes as a temporary standard has expired and unions are taking the agency to court to reinstall protections.

“The removal of this OSHA standard as hospital resources and workers are strained from grappling with record-breaking numbers of cases of COVID-19 and increasing hospitalizations underscores the dire need for a permanent standard—and the retention of the emergency temporary standard until the permanent standard takes effect—for the duration of the pandemic,” according to the letter led by Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan.

OSHA released the emergency temporary standard in June, outlining key requirements for equipment and protocols that health systems had to provide to workers under federal law.

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The agency has six months after a temporary standard is released to make a decision on a permanent replacement.

However, on Dec. 27, OSHA announced a permanent standard would not have been done before the six-month window expired and pulled the temporary measure.

The agency said workplaces should still voluntarily abide by the temporary standard.

But the move infuriated nurses' unions that have clamored for more than a year for OSHA to install the standard in the first place amid concerns of workplace safety. A team of unions that includes the AFL-CIO and National Nurses United petitioned a federal appeals court last week to force OSHA to make the COVID-19 standard permanent.

Now, a collection of more than 100 lawmakers is joining the fray, demanding that any delay in issuing a final standard “directly puts these workers across the country at risk of illness and death as a result of COVID-19,” the letter said.

The lawmakers also balked at OSHA rescinding the standard now, when the highly transmissible omicron variant has caused a highly pronounced surge of the virus. Hospitalizations in the U.S. reached a massive high of 151,261 out of 5,480 hospitals reporting, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

OSHA did not immediately return a request for comment on the letter.