Experts in Occupational Safety and Health Call for Stronger Standard to Protect Healthcare Workers from COVID-19

More than 100 experts file a comment letter supporting Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s promulgation of a strong final standard on occupational exposure to COVID-19 in healthcare settings

WASHINGTON (April 26, 2022) — More than one hundred public health experts submitted a letter to OSHA supporting the establishment of a strong and permanent standard to protect healthcare workers from COVID-19, one that fully acknowledges and finally addresses aerosol transmission of the virus. The expert’s letter is written in response to OSHA’s request for public comment related to the issuance of a final standard to protect healthcare workers from occupational exposure to COVID-19 and was filed April 21, 2022.

Explaining that healthcare workers remain at high risk for COVID-19, the experts call on OSHA to require measures that would be more protective than the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that OSHA issued last June. The letter states that the original OSHA ETS had failed to fully recognize and protect healthcare workers against aerosol exposure which left many healthcare workers without fully protective respiratory protection “putting them, their co-workers, patients and their families at risk of exposure, illness, and death.”

OSHA announced last December that it would not enforce the June 2021 ETS.

The experts assert that stronger healthcare worker protections would particularly benefit workers of color who suffered a much higher rate of COVID-19 infections and death than their White counterparts.

David Michaels, epidemiologist and professor at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health and former administrator for OSHA said, “COVID-19 showed how vulnerable our healthcare workers are to airborne viruses and that strong and cohesive standard for protection is needed to protect these at-risk individuals.” Professor Michaels, the longest serving administrator for OSHA, and Peg Seminario, former Director of the AFL-CIO Health and Safety Department drafted these comments.

The letter was signed by 111 experts in occupational safety and health, medicine, epidemiology, industrial hygiene, aerosol science, public health law and other relevant fields, including five former Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials (including two former OSHA Administrators), five former officials of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (including three former Directors or Acting Directors), two former Directors of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, and nine current or former Deans of Schools of Public Health.

 Specifically, the experts’ comments called for

  • Protecting healthcare workers from exposure to airborne particles, including requirements for employers to follow the hierarchy of controls, including engineering controls, to provide clean indoor air involving ventilation, filtration and/or application germicidal ultraviolet technology;

  • Respiratory protection programs requiring NIOSH-certified respirators;

  • Paid sick leave (medical removal benefits); 

  • Enhanced recording and reporting of cases.

 OSHA officials have said they plan to issue a final standard by November 2022.

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