Despite what you might hear from business lobbyists about alleged “overregulation,” insiders understand that OSHA seldom issues a regulation unless pushed by worker advocates. Although there are thousands of toxic chemicals in use in industry, regulations only cover a few dozen – usually in response to lobbying or lawsuits by labor unions and public health organizations. Nurses and health care workers have been waiting more than a decade for a workplace safety standard governing infectious diseases, and the pandemic has been the last straw: three unions have filed suit demanding that OSHA lay out what employers must do to protect health care workers.
OSHA began exploring an infectious disease standard in 2009, responding to a petition by health care worker unions during the swine flu epidemic. The 2014 Ebola scare strengthened the case for action, but after President Trump’s 2016 election OSHA dropped the subject. Now, after dozens of hospital and nursing home employees have died from COVID-19 while caring for the ill, workers are no longer willing to wait.
AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), AFT (American Federation of Teachers), and the WSNA (Washington State Nurses Association) – each of which represent substantial numbers of health care workers – filed suit. The suit demands that OSHA prepare and issue an occupational safety and health standard protecting workers exposed to infectious diseases in the workplace.
Please pray for the safety of our health care workers, and rapid action by OSHA to keep them safe.