Appeals court strikes down bid to reinstate OSHA COVID-19 protection standard

A federal appeals court struck down a nurses’ union’s petition to reinstall an emergency protection standard for front-line health workers at risk of contracting COVID-19. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled Friday that it did not have the power to overturn the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA's) decision to scrap a temporary protection standard that outlined requirements for hospitals to keep front-line health workers safe from contracting COVID-19. The union National Nurses United decried the decision.

“While we are disappointed in the court’s decision, we will not relent in our efforts to ensure that nurses and all other health care workers have the occupational health and safety protections they need to stay safe during the ongoing pandemic,” said NNU President Jean Ross in a statement.

The ruling is the latest in a long-running dispute between the union and OSHA on mandating protections for nurses such as staffing minimums and standards for equipment. 

OSHA issued a temporary protection standard for COVID-19 back in June 2021. However, OSHA did not move to make a permanent standard before the temporary one expired last year, as the agency shifted resources toward a vaccine mandate, the appellate opinion said.

OSHA had called for health systems to still impose the standard’s requirements voluntarily.

NNU blasted OSHA’s decision at the time, noting that it will leave workers vulnerable amid a still raging pandemic. The union filed a lawsuit alongside several other unions seeking for a permanent standard. 

NNU demanded that OSHA issue a permanent standard within 30 days. However, the appellate court ruled it lacked the jurisdiction to compel the agency to keep the standard. 

“We cannot order OSHA to promulgate a permanent standard because at the conclusion of the rulemaking process, OSHA is permitted to determine that no standard should issue,” the opinion said. “And enforcement of the healthcare [emergency standard] is squarely within OSHA’s prosecutorial discretion.”