Citing the new Omicron variant, National Nurses United (NNU) says that a permanent OSHA Covid-19 standard for health care workplaces is urgently needed. An emergency temporary standard (ETS) was adopted in June 2021 and set to expire on December 21, 2021.
If more time is required to issue a permanent standard, NNU urges OSHA to update and reissue the COVID-19 Health Care ETS by December 21, 2021, based upon changing conditions to ensure ongoing, uninterrupted protection for nurses and other health care workers in the United States.
“The pandemic is far from over,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN, NNU President. “Unfettered, widespread transmission has resulted in and will continue to result in the evolution and spread of new variants of concern, such as Omicron. Nurses are urging OSHA not to let the hard-won Covid-19 protections in the ETS end—especially as we learn more about the latest variant.”
“The COVID-19 health care [emergency temporary standard] has been an important step forward in ensuring safe working conditions for frontline health care workers by mandating optimal PPE and other protections, but it has also been a stopgap,” said Triunfo-Cortez. “We urge OSHA to make our protections permanent with no lapse in the enforcement of the temporary standard before the permanent standard is issued.”
A permanent OSHA standard should be built on current ETS requirements, the precautionary principle, and updated scientific knowledge of the virus, NNU wrote in a letter to the US Department of Labor. The NNU recommended that the standard include the following:
- All health care employers must have written infection control safety and implementation plans, developed in consultation with nonmanagement employees and their representatives
- All nurses and other frontline health care workers exposed to Covid-19 must be provided optimal PPE against aerosol transmission of the virus, including respiratory protection, eye protection, protective clothing, and gloves
- Protective requirements on notification of health care employees exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, and provision of pay and benefits for those who must take time off as a result of exposure or infection
- Mandates on screening and testing of patients and visitors, isolation and dedicated COVID-19 units, mask wearing, physical distancing, and ventilation in the workplace
According to NNU tracking data as of December 2, 2021, 4632 health care workers have died of COVID-19, including 476 RNs. The actual death rate among health care workers is likely higher as data has not been collected in all areas, the NNU stated. More than 1 million US health care workers have been infected with COVID-19 in the United States, according to NNU.
National Nurses United. Citing new Omicron variant, nurses say permanent OSHA COVID-19 standard for health care workers badly needed. News Release. December 2, 2021. Accessed December 6, 2021. https://www.nationalnursesunited.org/press/nurses-say-permanent-osha-covid-19-standard-needed-for-health-care-workers