The federal government has placed healthcare workers in “grave danger” by withdrawing portions of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s COVID-19 healthcare emergency temporary standard, contends a brief filed Thursday by several labor unions.
“Whatever discretion OSHA may have in other contexts, it does not have the discretion to abandon healthcare workers while it formulates a final rule on a timetable of its own choosing,” the plaintiffs told the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The brief is related to the lawsuit filed Jan. 5 by National Nurses United; the AFL-CIO; the American Federation of Teachers; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and other plaintiffs. According to the suit, OSHA regulators unlawfully withdrew safety requirements for healthcare employers announced in June that were meant to protect workers from COVID-19 infections.
The emergency temporary standard, when announced, required assisted living communities, nursing homes and other healthcare employers to provide some employees with N95 respirators and other personal protective equipment. Additionally, it included social distancing, employee screening, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols. Also, healthcare employers were required to encourage employees to get vaccinated as well as provide workers with paid time off to get vaccinated and to recover from any vaccine side effects.
According to the labor organizations, the revocation of the emergency temporary standard was unlawful because, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the agency must keep such a standard in effect “until superseded by a [permanent] standard promulgated in accordance with the [expedited] procedures prescribed in [Section 6(c)(3)].”
The unions are asking the court to order OSHA to reinstate the measure until a permanent rule is in place and to require the issue to be fixed within 30 days of being ordered to do so.
“No reasonable reading of those provisions allows OSHA to leave workers unprotected from a grave danger for an indeterminate amount of time before promulgating a permanent standard,” the plaintiffs said.