New Bittersweet OSHA Rule for Healthcare

Ideas and Issues

June 11, 2021

New Orleans

More than a year ago, our union had filed OSHA complaints in behalf of workers we represent in community care homes for mentally challenged consumers in Louisiana for lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) and failure to isolate and segregate positive Covid-19 cases. We even did actions demanding responses at OSHA office doors, often locked and closed. There’s no polite way to say this, but we eventually talked to someone finally, but we never received a formal response to our case filing. Now with a new administration, a new rule has finally been announced. That’s good news, but it’s not great news.

The Labor Department says the OSHA Covid-rule will cover ten million health care workers, 7% of the US workforce. The rule has some nice features:

· Employers must develop a written plan for protecting workers.

· PPE must be provided to workers with direct client contact.

· Workers must be allowed to socially distant at six feet.

· Workers will receive paid time off to get vaccinated and to recover from any side effects.

· Workers who catch Covid-19 must work remotely, be separated from other workers, or be given paid time off amounting as much as $1400 per week.

· Mask requirements depend on a worker’s job duties and level of exposure.

In short, this is something that we can work with in our nursing homes certainly, and the announcements indicate that hospital workers will also be covered. Assisted-living facilities are specifically mentioned, so until we know differently, we will assume that the rule includes the many workers we represent in community home settings for mental health and disability consumers. We’ll see.

That’s the sweeter part, but the bitter part is all of the other essential workers that we represent and that are on the frontlines all over the country in numerous workplaces where the death counts for workers have also been extreme, that are not covered in this new rule.  What about grocery and restaurant workers, meatpackers, truckers, and delivery workers, all of whom tallied significant mortality against vital risks?  Nada.

The administration says it is working on some other emergency rules, but it is hard to get our hopes up. The Chamber of Commerce is complaining about the healthcare rule now, claiming that vaccination rates are up and the pandemic is over, so who needs worker safety. As the economy opens up and politicians want to play-pretend it’s “let the good times roll,” “been there, done that,” and we learned nothing so full-steam ahead, it is hard to get rid of a nagging fear that the powers that be are going to a default once again of undervaluing essential workers once again, allowing the risks be without reward, and seeing workers’ death in industry after industry as simply collateral damage to their greater good.