politico – Covid’s new workplace safety rules block health care and spare other industries

Specifically, the new healthcare standards would require, among other requirements, that healthcare employers provide ventilators to employees working with Covid patients, establish a Covid response plan, screen employees and patients for the viruses, record employee cases and provide training on Covid Risks at Work.

Employers will not have to provide masks, social distancing or barriers to fully vaccinated workers “when there is no reasonable expectation that a person suspected or confirmed of COVID-19 will be present”, according to the rules .

“OSHA has adapted the rule that reflects the reality on the ground – the success of vaccination efforts as well as the latest CDC guidelines and the changing nature of the pandemic,” Walsh added. “The requirements will be familiar to people: mass social distancing and free time if you are sick with the coronavirus. The rule also requires paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects. ”

The rules will apply to “hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” DOL said, and will include emergency responders and home health workers, according to a summary of the rules. They will not apply to retail pharmacies and non-hospital outpatient facilities that prohibit entry to people suspected or confirmed of Covid-19.

DOL has also updated its optional Covid Safety Guidelines for all other workplaces, adding additional information on how employers should protect vaccinated and unvaccinated employees as well as recommendations for high-contact industries like the packaging of meat and groceries.

The directive urges employers to provide masks to unvaccinated or at-risk workers and to allow social distancing, but also noted that “most employers no longer need to take action to protect their workers from exposure. to COVID-19 ”if all their employees are fully immunized.

The narrow scope of the long-awaited binding rules is a loss for unions, a strong source of grassroots support for Joe Biden’s presidential candidacy in 2020, galvanized by his promises to advance a “working class” agenda.

Other leftist groups have also criticized the rules.

“This move represents a shameful failure of leadership by an administration that was elected on a platform to defend the needs of all working people,” said Gina Cummings of anti-poverty group Oxfam America.

Democrats and worker safety advocates who wanted broad Covid safety measures to apply to all workplaces say the administration’s decision to limit their scope to health care alone abandons an essential element of the Covid-19 response plan that Biden campaigned on and will put vulnerable workers at risk.

“The Biden administration missed a critical opportunity to protect all workers,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.

“This is new insult on top of the injuries, illnesses and deaths suffered by frontline workers and their families,” Martinez said. “The vaccines have not reached all workers and Covid-19 is not over. “

But Republicans and business groups have expressed some relief, having opposed mandatory safety requirements throughout the pandemic which they said would contradict state health rules in some places and impose restrictions. unnecessary costs that would hamper the global economic recovery.

“We appreciate that the Department of Labor has refuted the ridiculous claims by Democrats and their union allies that all working American workers are currently at serious risk from the virus. Yet despite widespread vaccinations and COVID-19 cases at levels not seen since the start of the pandemic, OSHA has bowed to political pressure of vested interests to adopt a Temporary Emergency Standard (ETS) in the healthcare sector, ”said Representative Virginia. Foxx (RN.C.), the top Republican on the House Education and Labor committee, in a statement.

“Imposing heavy new regulations on this heroic industry at this point in the pandemic is totally unnecessary. Additionally, we cannot endorse inflexible and restrictive regulations that are unable to keep up with the ever-changing science regarding COVID-19. ”

The DOL’s decision to impose the rules on healthcare workers came after months of delay from the Biden administration, which was expected by businesses and unions to issue strict masking requirements on the workplace and social distancing.

Shortly after taking office, Biden asked the DOL to decide by March 15 whether such emergency rules were needed. OSHA has the power to issue a “temporary emergency safety standard” only if it determines that workers are “in serious danger” due to exposure to something “determined to be toxic or physically. harmful or new dangers “.

However, DOL missed the deadline by several weeks after Walsh said he wanted the agency to continue reviewing the rules. After facing questions from Democrats and unions, the rules were sent to the White House’s budget office for review – the last step before publication – in late April.

But as they passed through the final stages of the review, the CDC issued new guidelines in May allowing fully vaccinated people to remove masks in most settings, raising concerns that the rule was as strict as it is. originally thought so.

“It has been very delicate with the guidelines and the evolution of the virus over the past two months,” Walsh said Thursday. “We know that the administration’s vaccination efforts combined with OSHA’s workplace safety efforts are definitely making a difference for workers and businesses across the country.”

DOL officials said the agency was working quickly to send the rules to the Federal Register for publication, after which they would go into effect immediately.

Healthcare workplaces will also have two weeks to put the protections in place after the rule is published.

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