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OSHA's retreat on TB draws protest

OSHA's decision to withdraw the proposed standard protecting workers from job-related exposure to tuberculosis drew immediate fire from the Service Employees International Union.

"The outbreak of SARS and the government's own bioterrorism warnings show how important it is for hospitals to be prepared to safely treat patients suffering from airborne diseases," said Andy Stern, president of the 1.5 million member SEIU.

"But instead of doing more to protect hospital patients and caregivers from airborne diseases, the Bush Administration is taking a big step backward. Dropping plans to require hospitals to provide the training, facilities and equipment to treat patients suffering from tuberculosis and other contagious respiratory diseases will make our nation's hospitals less prepared to deal with threats like SARS and bioterrorism."

In 1997, OSHA published its proposed standard for occupational exposure to TB. At the request of Congress, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences (IOM) conducted a study of OSHA's proposal and the need for a TB standard. That study was completed in January 2001, and it concluded that OSHA should move forward with a standard modeled after the Centers for Disease Control guidelines and tailored to the extent of TB risk present in the community. The IOM study concluded that an OSHA standard was needed to maintain national TB rates among healthcare and other employees at their current levels and to prevent future outbreaks of multi-drug resistant and other forms of TB among these workers. OSHA reopened the record to obtain comment on the IOM study, the draft final risk assessment and the peer reviewers' comment on the risk assessment. The agency then decided to withdraw the proposal.

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