Enforce OSHA Protections for Public Sector Health Care Workers! Update, Don’t Repeal COVID-19 Health and Safety Protections!

July 15, 2021
(1) Provide verbal testimony at the virtual hearing on Wednesday, July 21 at and/or 
Wednesday, Jul 21, 2021 1:00 pm | 1 hour | (UTC-04:00) Eastern Time (US & Canada) 
Meeting number: 173 215 2706 
Password: DLS31Hearing 
(2) Provide written testimony by Thursday, July 22 at 5:00 pm to dlsfeedback@mass.gov 
What should you say? 
(1) Enforce OSHA protections for public sector health care workers! 
On June 10, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration released updated COVID-19 guidance for all workplaces and an Emergency Temporary Standard that covers workers in healthcare facilities.  Those critical health and safety rules went into effect on June 21, yet the State has refused to enforce those protections for public sector healthcare workers, despite the fact that public sector workers are protected by a public sector OSHA law in Massachusetts (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 49, section 6 ½).   
This flies in the face of reason, given the troubling history of the pandemic in publicly-run nursing homes in the Commonwealth, including the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. 
The Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards must enforce the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard for public sector health care facilities.  Our public sector healthcare workers -- whose lives are on the line -- deserve no less. 
(2) Update, do not repeal 454 CMR 31.00, the COVID-19 Workplace Health and Safety regulations!  
On May 29, the Department of Labor Standards stopped enforcing its COVID-19 Workplace Safety regulations - despite the fact that these protections are still needed and that there is a clear legal requirement that regulations stay in place until there is a public hearing to discuss any change.  The hearing to permanently repeal the regulations is on July 21 and we must demand that DLS update, update, not repeal the regulations.  While masks are still required in schools, correctional facilities, public transportation, healthcare facilities and congregant care facilities (enforced by the MA Department of Public Health), many vulnerable workers in other facilities now have no protections.  
  • There are still many unvaccinated people in Massachusetts. Approximately 62% of people in Massachusetts are fully are vaccinated. But this vaccination rate is not equitably distributed.  According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 53% of Black and 49% Hispanic people in Massachusetts are vaccinated.   
  • We must protect workers – and citizens – who are at-risk.  We have a duty to protect those who are either unable to take the vaccine or remain vulnerable to COVID-19 infection for other reasons.   
  • Cases are on the rise as the more contagious Delta variant takes over as the dominant coronavirus strain in Massachusetts. People continue to be hospitalized - and to die. We are not finished – or more accurately, COVID-19 is not yet finished with us. While the vaccine is the best protection against the virus, it is not 100% effective.  Workers with high occupational exposure are at particular risk.  79 fully-vaccinated Massachusetts residents have died from COVID-19. 
  • The science on how people are exposed to and contract COVID-19 has advanced significantly since Fall 2020 when the regulations went into effect.  We now know that aerosol transmission is the key means through which people are infected, especially indoors in spaces with inadequate ventilation and filtration.  We should not repeal the regulations while workers are still at risk. We must update them to match the science.  
Update, don’t repeal!