U.S. Department of Labor officials on Thursday announced a temporary emergency standard to protect healthcare workers, saying they faced “serious danger” in the workplace from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The new standard would require employers to remove workers with Covid-19 from the workplace, notify workers of exposure to Covid at work, and strengthen requirements for employers to report worker deaths or hospitalizations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha).
“These are the workers who keep working day in and day out to take care of us, to save our lives,” said Jim Frederick, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. “And we have to make sure we do everything in our power to reciprocate to protect them. “
The new rules are expected to take effect immediately after being posted in the Federal Register and are expected to affect approximately 10.3 million healthcare workers nationwide.
The government’s explanatory memorandum for the new rules cites the work of KHN and the Guardian in tallying more than 3,600 Covid healthcare worker deaths through April 8. Journalists have documented many more deaths than the limited number of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which as of May had counted 1,611 deaths on often incomplete case reporting forms.
The Lost on the Frontline project documented early calls for better respiratory protection for healthcare workers than loose-fitting face masks, noted serious complaints in Osha from hospital workers that were left untreated and revealed repeated failures by employers to report dozens of worker deaths. He also revealed that healthcare employers often failed to inform workers of exposure to the coronavirus at work.
The new standard would address some of these issues.
The rules require workers to wear N95 or reusable respirators when in contact with people suspected or confirmed of Covid. They are stepping up employer record-keeping requirements, saying employers must document all cases of worker Covid (whether or not considered work-related) and report work-related deaths even if they occur more. 30 days after exposure.
There’s a lot to like about the new rule – except the timing, according to Barbara Rosen, vice president of the New Jersey Health Care Professionals and Employees Union.
“It’s a little late,” she said. “If we had this in place early on, it would have saved a lot of lives and a lot of suffering that has continued with healthcare workers and probably patients in hospitals due to the spread. “
Kristin Carbone said the measure came too late for her mother, Barbara Birchenough, 65, a New Jersey hospital nurse who had asked family members to collect gardening gloves and trash bags to serve. makeshift personal protective equipment before she fell ill and died later on April 15, 2020. Still, she said, it was a necessary step.
“If there is a ray of hope,” she said, “I am happy that this tragedy is positive for those left behind. “