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National COSH Applauds Firm Action by OSHA to Enforce COVID Protections for Health Care Workers in Arizona, South Carolina and Utah

Thursday, October 21, 2021
Press Contacts: 

Melissa Moriarty, melissa@nationalcosh.org, 603.505.7135

National COSH Applauds Firm Action by OSHA to Enforce COVID Protections
for Health Care Workers in Arizona, South Carolina and Utah

Note for planning editors: Media briefing scheduled for 10/28
on workplace safety regulations for COVID-19 vaccines and testing

LOS ANGELES -- Leaders of the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) said today that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is on firm ground by taking steps to enforce life-saving protections for health care workers in Arizona, South Carolina and Utah.

“Health care workers have been true heroes during this pandemic,” said Jessica E. Martinez, co-executive director of National COSH. “Every health care worker -- no matter where they live -- deserves the best possible science-based protections to reduce the deadly risk of COVID-19.”

“Our federal safety laws are clear,” said Martinez. “States have the option of enforcing safety regulations, but only if they are ‘at least as effective’ as nationwide regulations. U.S. OSHA is taking proper action by insisting that all states offer protection for health care workers.”

Twenty-two states have opted to enforce federal safety regulations, under OSHA-approved state plans.  Arizona, Utah and South Carolina are the only three of these 22 states that have not adopted or enforced measures included in an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to protect health care workers from COVID-19, issued by U.S. OSHA in June of this year. The standard requires, among other measures, consultation with workers on a  COVID-19 protection plan, employer-provided N95 masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers, social distancing and paid time off for workers who are sick.

Despite efforts to bring the three states into compliance, Arizona, South Carolina and Utah officials are still leaving health care workers unprotected.  As a result, federal OSHA gave notice yesterday that it will begin the process of withdrawing approval for state plans to enforce federal safety laws in all three states. If the three affected states do not reverse course, they will lose authority to enforce federal safety laws and enforcement actions will transfer to federal OSHA.  Arizona, South Carolina and Utah may also lose federal funds that are earmarked for state plan enforcement of federal safety laws.

“Arizona is a repeat offender when it comes to failing to safeguard workers. This is not the first time the state has failed to properly enforce our safety laws,” said Peter Dooley, who is based in Tucson and is Safety and Health Senior Project Coordinator for National COSH.  The Arizona Industrial Commission, he said, has previously been cited for improperly reducing fines for safety violations by employers and for failing to properly enforce protections for workers at risk of falling when working at height on construction sites and other workplaces.

“We can’t have a race to the bottom, where states compete by trying to see who can do the least for workers,” said Dooley.  “That’s why we have federal standards for worker safety -- and that’s why US OSHA is taking the right step by enforcing safety in all health care workplaces.”

A new nationwide Emergency Temporary Standard, which will require vaccines or weekly COVID-19 testing in all private sector workplaces with over 100 employees, was announced by President Biden in September and is presently under review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

“OSHA is taking steps in the right direction but much more needs to be done to reduce the risk of COVID-19, so workers can feel safe returning to their jobs,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, also a co-executive director of National COSH.  “A comprehensive strategy for all workers -- including health care and all other sectors -- should include consultation with workers and their unions, improved ventilation, social distancing, shift rotation, PPE provided by the employer, and paid sick leave."

On October 28 at 2 pm ET, National COSH will present a media briefing on how the pending Emergency Temporary Standard on vaccines and COVID-19 will affect U.S. workers.  For further details, reporters and editors can contact melissa@nationalcosh.org.

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National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit NationalCOSH.org. Follow us at @NationalCOSH on Facebook, @NationalCOSH on Twitter and @NationalCOSH on Instagram.