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Infectious diseases standard for health care industry a priority, OSHA tells court

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San Francisco — OSHA is prioritizing an infectious diseases standard for the health care industry, according to a motion filed Feb. 16 in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The joint motion, signed by Department of Labor counsel Joseph G. Gilliland and Democracy Forward Foundation counsel Michael C. Martinez, requested a suspension of a lawsuit brought against the Trump administration’s DOL, former Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and OSHA. The court granted the motion Feb. 19.

Democracy Forward filed the suit Oct. 29 on behalf of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the American Federation of Teachers; the Washington State Nurses Association; and the United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals. The four labor unions were attempting to get the court to compel OSHA to move forward on the standard, which was stalled since 2017.

Oral arguments in the case were set to begin March 3, but the motion states: “Since January 20, 2021, new leadership at OSHA have begun reassessing the agency’s priorities in light of the goals of the new administration. In particular, the agency intends to prioritize the development of an infectious diseases standard for the health care sector.”

The motion cites an Executive Order signed by President Joe Biden on Jan. 21 directing OSHA to consider an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 that would cover all workers, including those in health care. If an ETS is considered necessary, the agency is instructed to issue one by March 15.


“We are encouraged by the Biden administration’s representations about prioritizing rulemaking on a permanent infectious diseases standard,” the unions state in a Feb. 22 press release from Democracy Forward. “Health care professionals across the nation are working tirelessly in the fight against COVID-19. They should be able to rest assured that their employers are required to take steps to protect them from exposure to infectious diseases like COVID-19, the flu, Ebola and more.”

The release contends that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, worker infections in the health care industry totaled 1.7 million a year. During the pandemic, more than 408,000 workers in the industry have become infected with COVID-19 and more than 1,400 have died.

The two parties intend to file a status report in April, in which OSHA “will update the court on the agency’s prioritization of the infectious diseases standard.”

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