WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- As the rise of the Omicron variant continues to threaten the safety of our nation’s health care workforce, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., joined colleagues in a letter Wednesday calling on the Biden administration to continue and make permanent the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency COVID-19 protections for health care workers in Oregon and nationwide.
“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,” Wyden and the lawmakers wrote. “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.”
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 health care workers still face serious safety challenges and workplace risks.
Last June, OSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to protect the workers who have shouldered the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic and to provide clear standards detailing health care employers’ responsibilities to the safety of their workers.
The standard requires employers to identify and control COVID-19 hazards in the workplace, provide access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and adequate ventilation systems, and ensure workers are notified of workplace exposures to COVID-19. This standard also gave health care workers a tool against which to measure their workplace practices, and recourse to OSHA if they felt their workplace was out of compliance.
On Dec. 27, six months after promulgation of the ETS, OSHA announced it was not ready to issue a permanent rule and would let the non-recordkeeping portions of the temporary standard expire.
When OSHA issued the ETS in June 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported that 491,816 health care workers had contracted COVID-19 and 1,611 had died. Today, those numbers have nearly doubled, with the CDC reporting that 848,028 health care workers across the nation have contracted COVID-19. Without a permanent rule, the health and well-being of our nation’s health care workers are at risk.
This letter is led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and along with Wyden is co-signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Cory Booker, D-N.J., Gary Peters, D-Mich., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn. Congresswoman Dingell led a similar letter in the House of Representatives that has more than 100 co-signers.
To read the letter, please click here.