Washington, D.C – The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has vigorously pushed for social workers and other health care workers to have access to optimal personal protective equipment (PPE) and urges Congress and the White House to include much-needed safety provisions (such as PPE access) in the next COVID-19 funding package.
The next package should mandate that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) quickly promulgate an Emergency Temporary Standard to protect health care workers from emerging infectious. It should also mandate use of the Defense Production Act of 1950 to mass produce and procure needed PPE, ventilators and other medical equipment, and COVID-19 testing. Testing and contact tracing are essential in stopping the spread of the disease and keeping social workers working in healthcare, child welfare and mental health safe.
“Social workers are essential workers on the front lines providing much-needed mental health care in-person in numerous settings, ranging from hospitals to nursing facilities to family homes. They are also instrumental in attending to the social needs of patients that must be addressed to help ensure recovery, such as access to nutritional food, reliable transportation and safe housing. To perform these functions at the highest possible level, worker safety must be a priority,” said Angelo McClain, Ph.D, LICSW, Chief Executive Officer of NASW.
Despite recent federal actions to address COVID-19, such as telehealth flexibilities to enable virtual service provision, many social workers and other healthcare workers are still at unacceptably high risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 on the job. This not only puts social workers at risk of exposure, but is putting their other patients, coworkers, families, and communities at risk as well.
It is also imperative that employers not retaliate against social workers and other health care workers for raising legitimate concerns about their personal safety while caring for patients with COVID-19. These professionals have the right to work in safe environments and to advocate for safe working conditions. Social workers who report concerns regarding their personal safety, or who request assistance in assuring their safety, should not fear retaliation, blame, or questioning of their competency from their supervisors or colleagues.
We appreciate OSHA’s efforts to remind employers that retaliation against health care workers is illegal. Any social workers who are experiencing acts of retaliation from their employer are urged to file a whistleblower complaint online with OSHA or call 1-800-321-OSHA. We urge OSHA to act quickly to address whistleblower complaints related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
NASW continues to stand with social workers who are on the front lines of the pandemic.