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New Protections for Health-Care Workers Are Pelosi’s Next Aim

March 27, 2020, 9:12 PM

House Democratic leaders vowed that a future coronavirus-relief measure would include provisions to bolster the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s ability to protect health-care workers, as the chamber cleared the largest stimulus package in the nation’s history.

“Workers are risking their lives on the front line of this fight and need stronger OSHA protections to keep them safe,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday on the House floor. “We have to make sure they know that help is not only on the way, but it is a priority for all of us.”

The $2 trillion bill (H.R.748) the House passed by voice vote Friday afternoon and President Donald Trump later signed into law split $15 million among OSHA and other Labor Department agencies through the end of fiscal year 2022. But leading Democrats argue that additional measures are needed to improve worker safety during the pandemic. While OSHA has requirements for medical personnel to follow to prevent the spread of bloodborne illnesses, it doesn’t have similar standards for airborne viruses like the novel coronavirus.

“We must strengthen safety protections for front-line health-care workers, expand paid sick leave and family and medical leave for tens of millions of workers, and provide relief to cash-strapped student borrowers,” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said after Friday’s vote.

It wasn’t clear on Friday when the House or Senate would be able to begin considering what would amount to a fourth coronavirus-response package. Both chambers are set for Easter recesses continuing to April 20.

Backing for OSHA-related provisions also could face some resistance from Republicans. Pelosi acknowledged during a Thursday press conference that she’s already heard objections from Republican senators’ offices to a similar House proposal.

A Preview Bill

House leaders indicated the kind of OSHA provisions they’ll be looking to include when they introduced the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act (H.R. 6379) on March 23.

The bill includes a provision mandating that OSHA issue an emergency temporary rule within seven days of the bill becoming law that would require health-care providers, fire departments, and other emergency responders to institute infection-prevention programs.

OSHA could expand the occupations covered under such a mandate if the agency or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider the workers to be at “elevated work.” States would have 14 days to enact their own rules, under the bill.

The proposal also would allocate OSHA $30 million for enforcement and education through fiscal year 2021. OSHA’s fiscal 2020 budget is $583 million.

A Congressional Research Service report published Thursday on the proposed OSHA standard said the agency hadn’t enacted an emergency rule since an asbestos standard was approved in 1983 and then struck down by a court the following year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at BRolfsen@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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