Duckworth Joins Gillibrand, 19 Colleagues in Calling on Biden Administration to Continue and Make Permanent OSHA’s Emergency COVID-19 Protections for Healthcare Workers; Protections Have Been Allowed to Lapse
As of This Week, the CDC Reported That 848,028 Healthcare Workers Across the Nation Have Contracted COVID-19
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – As the rise of the Omicron variant continues to threaten the safety of our nation’s healthcare workforce, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) joined U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and 19 of her colleagues yesterday in a letter calling on the Biden Administration to continue and make permanent the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) emergency COVID-19 protections for healthcare workers. The letter addresses OSHA’s announcement at the end of 2021 that it would allow the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to lapse, despite the fact that healthcare workers still face serious safety challenges and workplace risks.
“We are writing to urge you to move forward with a permanent, enforceable standard that would require employers to protect workers in healthcare settings and to keep the emergency protections in place until a permanent standard is issued, which should be accomplished as expeditiously as possible,” wrote the lawmakers.
Today, more than 140,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 nationwide, further straining overworked healthcare workers and hospitals facing severe staffing shortages. Recent reporting shows that overworked doctors, nurses and staff have been forced to continue working in unsafe conditions and are concerned for their health and safety.
“Given the emergence and rapid spread of the Omicron variant, healthcare workers need to retain strong, enforceable protections now; these protections cannot lapse,” the letter concluded.
Along with Duckworth and Gillibrand, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Gary Peters (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Chris Murphy (D-CT).
This letter was endorsed by the AFL-CIO, NYS AFL-CIO, SEIU, 1199SEIU, 32BJ SEIU and National Nurses United.
Full text of the letter is available here and below:
Dear President Biden and Secretary Walsh,
Following the announcement in late December of the withdrawal of the non-recordkeeping portions of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) COVID-19 Health Care Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), we write to urge the Department of Labor to take all necessary steps to expeditiously issue a permanent standard to protect our nation’s health care workers in the workplace. Particularly in the context of rising COVID-19 caseloads stemming from the spread of the Omicron variant, our nation’s health care workers deserve a permanent, enforceable standard that will ensure their health and safety as they continue to work on the front lines of the pandemic response.
OSHA’s June 21 ETS protected health care workers, who have shouldered the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency temporary standard, which requires employers to implement plans to identify and control COVID-19 hazards in the workplace, helped to ensure that workers had access to effective personal protective equipment (PPE) and adequate ventilation systems, and ensured workers were notified of workplace exposures to COVID-19, providing critical protections against the risks frontline health care workers face every day in their workplaces. We were encouraged by the administration’s commitment to protecting health care workers through emergency protections by providing a clear standard detailing employers’ responsibilities to their workers.
Accordingly, we were deeply troubled by OSHA’s announcement on December 27 that the agency would remove these protections without a permanent standard in place, while at the same time the agency acknowledged health care workers remain in grave danger from exposure to COVID-19. Though the agency contends that the terms of the ETS remain “relevant in general duty cases in that they show that COVID-19 poses a hazard in the healthcare industry,” we are concerned that the lapse of the temporary standard signals that OSHA no longer retains the necessary robust enforcement authority to provide adequate protections for health care workers, nor will there be a standard to provide adequate transparency or predictability for employees and their employers in evaluating health care workplace practices.
We are writing to urge you to move forward with a permanent, enforceable standard that would require employers to protect workers in health care settings and to keep the emergency protections in place until a permanent standard is issued, which should be accomplished as expeditiously as possible. Given the emergence and rapid spread of the Omicron variant, health care workers need to retain strong, enforceable protections now; these protections cannot lapse. This is necessary to adequately address the emergency context of the present situation health care workers are facing.
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