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Covid’s new workplace safety rules block healthcare, spare other industries

Specifically, the new Covid emergency safety standard for healthcare would require, among other requirements, that healthcare employers provide respirators to employees working with Covid patients, establish a Covid response plan, screen employees and patients for the virus, record employee cases and provide training on Covid risks at work.

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

The 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 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. COVID-19 ”at work if all their employees are fully immunized.

Covid’s long-awaited emergency workplace safety rules released Thursday by the Biden administration are a loss to unions, a strong source of popular support for Joe Biden’s presidential bid in 2020 galvanized by the president’s promises to advance a “working class” agenda.

Democrats and worker safety advocates who wanted broad Covid safety measures to apply to all workplaces say the administration’s decision to restrict the scope of emergency rules to healthcare only is dropping a critical part of the Covid-19 response plan Biden campaigned on and will leave workers at risk vulnerable.

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

“This is a new insult in addition to 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 at the limited scope, having opposed Covid’s mandatory safety requirements throughout the pandemic which they say contradict the country’s health rules. State and impose unnecessary costs that would hamper the overall economic recovery.

“We appreciate that the Department of Labor has refuted the ridiculous claims by Democrats and their union allies that all 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 stage of 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. “

DOL’s decision to impose mandatory safety rules on healthcare workers came after months of delay from the Biden administration, which was expected by businesses and unions to issue tough demands on the matter. workplace masking 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 to new dangers “.

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

But as the rule passed through the final stages of review, the CDC issued new guidelines in May allowing fully vaccinated people to remove masks in most settings, raising concerns that the rule was not as strict as it was. it was originally thought.

“It has been very difficult 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 rule to the Federal Register for publication, after which it would take effect immediately.

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