Nurses unions are asking the courts to force the Biden administration to issue permanent standards for preventing COVID-19 in workplaces after it announced plans to withdraw parts of an emergency temporary standard for healthcare workers.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has "failed" to protect nurses and other workers as the law requires, NNU, New York State Nurses Association, Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals and other unions argued in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
While OSHA issued temporary standards for healthcare employers in June, the agency announced plans last week to withdraw most of it because it could not complete a final rule within six months as mandated by the law. OSHA has projected its proposed infectious disease standard would be released in April, meaning a final rule would not be ready until at least 30 days after that.
The healthcare ETS applied to settings were COVID-19 patients are treated and required employers to follow rules around personal protective equipment, physical distancing, paid leave for vaccinations and other requirements.
"When OSHA determines an emergency situation exists (as it did here) and issues an emergency standard, that emergency standard must stay in effect until a final rule is issued, which must be done within six months of publication of the emergency standard," the unions argued in the lawsuit. "OSHA does not have discretion to create a temporal hole with indefinite duration in the regulatory framework of healthcare worker protections while a pandemic rages."
NNU is asking the court to order OSHA to issue a permanent standard for healthcare occupational exposure to COVID-19 and retain and enforce the emergency temporary standard until a permanent rule takes effect.
OSHA argues healthcare workers are still protected by other existing standards, but it is also urging employers to voluntarily follow the expired temporary standard until a final rule is ready.
"Continued adherence to the terms of the healthcare ETS is the simplest way for employers in healthcare settings to protect their employees' health and ensure compliance with their OSH Act obligations," the agency wrote on its website last week.