'We can’t let our guard down now,' NNU president says.
National Nurses United (NNU) is urging the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to adopt a permanent standard on COVID-19 in healthcare workplaces, strengthening protections for nurses and other frontline workers.
The COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS), which was adopted last June, has been crucial in ensuring safe working conditions by mandating optimal PPE and other protections, but nurses are calling for ongoing protections.
"The COVID-19 health care ETS has saved lives during the ongoing crisis, but this pandemic will not be over by December," Burger said in a press release. "Nurses urge that OSHA adopt a permanent standard on COVID-19 without delay."
The COVID-19 healthcare ETS has mandated requirements for employers, with penalties for violations, on infection control protections in healthcare settings. Allowing it to expire without adopting a permanent standard would mean more transmission of the virus, more hospitalizations, and more deaths from COVID-19, Burger said.
"Nurses and other healthcare workers haven’t had one day’s rest for this entire pandemic," she said. "We stood up on the front lines of COVID to save lives when we were needed most, including in the days when our employers, with no repercussions, told us that we could wear bandanas as PPE. It was a major step forward when OSHA issued the COVID-19 healthcare ETS in June, and it is imperative that OSHA maintain these lifesaving protections by issuing a permanent COVID-19 standard to ensure nurses and other healthcare workers can protect our patients."
Adoption of a permanent OSHA standard on COVID-19 in healthcare workplaces should be built on current ETS requirements, the precautionary principle, and updated scientific knowledge of the virus, NNU says.
Such a standard should include:
- All healthcare employers must have written infection control safety and implementation plans, developed in consultation with non-management employees and their representatives.
- All nurses and other frontline healthcare 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 healthcare employees exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace.
- Provision of pay and benefits for those who must take time off because of exposure or infection.
- Mandates on screening and testing of patients and visitors, mask wearing, physical distancing, and ventilation in the workplace.
"This is still a dangerous and deadly pandemic. People in the United States continue to be infected and die and nurses and other frontline caregivers remain in danger," Burger said. "We can’t let our guard down now."
As of this week, 458 RNs have died of COVID-19, among 4,547 healthcare worker deaths overall, according to NNU tracking data. Since the data has not been collected in many places, a full accounting may never be known. At least 1,037,083 healthcare workers have been infected, according to NNU.
“It was a major step forward when OSHA issued the COVID-19 healthcare ETS in June, and it is imperative that OSHA maintain these lifesaving protections by issuing a permanent COVID-19 standard to ensure nurses and other healthcare workers can protect our patients.”
Deborah Burger, RN, president of NNU
Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.
ETS, adopted last June, has ensured safe working conditions by mandating infection control protections in healthcare settings.
NNU, in a 29-page letter to OSHA, has asked ETS to be made permanent.
As of this week, 458 RNs have died of COVID-19.