WASHINGTON – Today Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott delivered the following remarks on a conference call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. on worker and patient safety legislation that must be included in the next coronavirus relief package.
“I want to start by thanking Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Pallone, and all of my colleagues who have been working to provide our constituents the comprehensive support they need during this difficult time.
“The three response packages Congress passed over the last month took critical steps to offer immediate relief for students, workers, and families across country. But it is clear that we need to do more, and that is particularly true in terms of protecting the health and safety of frontline health care workers, first responders, and other essential workers.
“We have taken unprecedented steps to slow the spread of this virus. The ongoing social distancing campaign is critical to ensuring our health care facilities have the capacity to provide adequate care to COVID-19 patients and others. But this effort will not be successful if we lose health care capacity because our nurses, doctors, and other medical staff are getting sick.
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration currently has no standard that addresses airborne infectious diseases, and CDC’s COVID-19 infection control guidance is not enforceable by OSHA.
“Although OSHA has had an infectious disease standard on the regulatory agenda for over ten years, the current Administration stalled efforts to finalize the standard.
“As a result, there is no legal requirement for health care facilities – not just hospitals, but nursing homes, mental health institutions, ambulatory care facilities and others – to take necessary steps to protect frontline health care workers.
“The Department of Labor has the authority to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard if employees are immediately exposed to grave danger from a new hazard. But – despite our repeated requests – OSHA is refusing to adopt an emergency standard.
“In response, we introduced legislation requiring OSHA to adopt an Emergency Temporary Standard and pushed to include it in the last COVID-19 bill, but it was blocked by the Senate and the Administration.
“Meanwhile, health care workers and first responders are being put in grave danger. And the experiences of other countries and right here in the U.S. provide a warning of what could happen if we fail to act.
“Nearly 14 percent of coronavirus cases in Spain are medical professionals and in Italy, almost 5,000 frontline health care workers have contracted the coronavirus. A New York Times story published this morning revealed that more than 200 workers had fallen sick in just one New York City hospital, half the intensive care staff are sick at another, and two nurses have died.
“Meanwhile, some hospitals are disciplining and firing health care workers for speaking out on the conditions in their hospitals and while health care workers risk their lives, President Trump is speculating that they are stealing equipment or worse.
“The next coronavirus response package must include a requirement that OSHA issue an Emergency Temporary Standard within seven days that requires employers to implement protections for at-risk workers.
“This emergency standard would cover all health care workers, including employees in public hospitals and other covered government facilities in 24 states where public employees are not currently covered by OSHA.
“Nurses, doctors, and other health care workers are desperately seeking these protections, and we must ensure they get the protections they deserve.
“Before I close, I want to note that other essential workers are also at risk and need better protection. In addition to protecting health care workers, we intend to expand the scope of this legislation to require OSHA to protect other at-risk workers, including TSA Agents, direct care workers, police officers, pharmacists, grocery store workers, and workers at other essential establishments that remain open.
“We’re also concerned that self-employed workers, including so-called gig economy workers who are frequently misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees, are excluded from coverage under OSHA, and have few legal protections from unsafe working conditions.
“These workers are keeping our communities going right now, and they need to be protected.
“I want to thank the Speaker for her leadership on this issue and I look forward to taking your questions.”
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