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September 10, 2004

House of Representatives Endangers Health Care Workers

Nathan related the good news in the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill below, but there was also a bit of bad news for health care workers in the bill. Congressman Roger Wicker (R-MS) succeeded in adding a legislative rider prohibiting OSHA from forcing hospitals to annually "fit test" employees who wear respirators to protect them from tuberculosis.

Annual fit testing of respirators must be done to assure that they protect workers and that their effectiveness does not deteriorate. OSHA's new respirator standard, issued in 2000, required all workers who wear respirators to receive annual fit tests, except for heatlh care workers exposed to TB who were to be covered in OSHA's new respirator standard. Unfortunately, time ran out on the Clinton administration before the standard could be issued and late last year, OSHA killed it.

To its credit, however, OSHA then decided that health care workers would be covered under the main respirator standard, and must then recieve annual fit tests just like every other American worker who must wear a respirator.

The American Hospital Association and the Association of Professional in Infection Control went berserk, fiercely lobbying OSHA and Congressman Wicker to repeal the fit-testing requirement. Wicker, one of the main forces behind OSHA's withdrawal of the TB standard, was only too happy to comply, adding the language to the House Labor/HHS appropriations bill that was passed today.

The language has not been introduced in the Senate which has not yet considered the Labor/HHS Appropriations bill.

Stay tuned.

Posted by Jordan Barab at September 10, 2004 12:11 AM