New Protections from COVID-19

 In Nurses Weekly

The American Nurses Association (ANA) advocated for and supports the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that requires employers to better protect nurses from COVID-19 hazards in the work environment.

This standard recognizes that nurses must have the most stringent levels of safety protections to provide the highest quality care to their patients. Critically, the ETS requires that employers provide better protections for nurses by developing and implementing plans to identify and control COVID-19 hazards in the workplace. Nurses who care directly for patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 must also be protected by approved respirators, which include single-use N95 respirators, elastomeric respirators, and powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR). Employers must also provide gloves, gowns, and eye protection. This requirement applies regardless of the nurses’ vaccination status. Employers are also required to screen health care personnel daily for COVID-19, provide COVID-19 tests at no charge to the employee, and to support employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

The ETS also empowers nurses to advocate for meaningful safety improvements during the duration of the emergency standard, as well as providing whistleblower protections for employees who raise safety concerns.

“While ANA is pleased that OSHA took the rare step to issue this new emergency standard, it is long overdue as nurses have been—and continue to be—at high risk for exposure to COVID-19.” said ANA President Ernest J. Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN. “ANA has been calling for specific safety protections from COVID-19 since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and while this ETS is beneficial, it is not a replacement for a permanent standard with strong respiratory protections, which remains a necessity. According to OSHA’s own materials, by the end of May 2021 nearly 492,000 health care personnel had contracted COVID-19 and more than 1,600 had died. More must be done to protect our nation’s nurses and frontline health care workers from the ravages of this pandemic.”

A comprehensive survey in February 2021 by the American Nurses Foundation (the Foundation) found that 74% of respondents said that consistent and better executed national health policies and public intervention plans will better prepare for future crises or pandemics. Nurses understand the critical role the federal government plays in ensuring their safety. They also know that this pandemic is not over, and that the future will inevitably bring new pandemics and public health crises. Nurseslives must not be endangered because policymakers have failed to take actions to adequately prepare. ANA is committed to protecting nurses and frontline health care workers.  It  will engage with OSHA on the implementation and enforcement of this ETS and continue to advocate for permanent protections from infectious agents in health care delivery.

Except for a few requirements, OSHA expects employers to comply with the ETS as of today, July 6, 2021, and nurses are able to comment on it through July 21, 2021. ANA encourages nurses and health care personnel to learn about the new requirements, and to understand how to report violations, by visiting OSHA’s website. ANA members can also access our Policy Brief on the ETS here.

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