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Alaska hospital system vacated of COVID mask-related violation

Posted On: Mar. 21, 2023 11:14 AM CST

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Ruling the Department of Labor failed to cite the correct standard and failed to prove a hospital system did not provide correct masks for its staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission on Friday vacated a $13,653 fine. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Nov. 20, 2020, opened an investigation into the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Inc., a nonprofit that provides care for Native Americans in Anchorage, Alaska, following the COVID-19 hospitalization of one of its workers. Court records in Secretary of Labor v. Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium cite conflicting guidance by OSHA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention six months into the pandemic over which masks employers were required to provide to employees.

OSHA, in its citation, wrote that the hospital system “did not provide NIOSH-certified respirators to employees who were required to care for suspected and confirmed positive Covid-19 patients. The employer provided and required employees to wear respirators labeled surgical masks. However, the surgical masks did not contain certification markings indicating they were certified under an equivalent international standard.”

In vacating, the commission wrote that the DOL “has failed to meet its burden of proof that Respondent’s selection of respirators were not NIOSH-certified respirators or that the use was not in compliance with the certification conditions.”