TB? You Can Breathe Now

By David Michaels

Yesterday, we wrote about the efforts by Rep. Roger Wicker (R-MS) to extend the prohibition on OSHA from fully enforcing its respiratory protection standard to protect health care workers and first responders from tuberculosis. Wicker successfully added this prohibition to legislation in the past, but the prohibition now in place ends in September, so he was trying again.

We’ve just learned that Rep. Wicker has backed down. In the face of well-organized opposition (unions and the public health community) armed with a very strong argument that the policy he was proposing was dangerous, Rep. Wicker has dropped his amendment.

How did we win? Over the weekend, the public health community got busy. Unions representing health care workers and first responders mobilized their members and Washington staff to tell members of Congress the amendment was bad policy. The American Nurses Association lobbied the issue, and the American Public Health Association, the American Industrial Hygiene Association and American Society of Safety Engineers sent in strong letters.

We were part of the mobilization, helping to circulate a letter signed by more than 50 of the nation’s leading occupational health physicians and scientists and endorsed by the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, explaining why Congress should defeat the Vickers amendment.

Congratulations to all. The current Congress-imposed rules stopping OSHA from enforcing its respirator standard expires September 30, 2007. Once the handcuffs are taken off, we hope OSHA goes into high gear and makes sure our vital public health workers get the protection they deserve.

David Michaels heads the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is Professor and Associate Chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.