March 13, 2020 / 5:35 PM / 24 days ago

U.S. unions, groups urge government steps to protect workers from coronavirus

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nearly 30 unions and advocacy groups on Friday urged the U.S. employee safety regulator to impose a suite of emergency measures to safeguard public-facing workers against the new coronavirus.

In a letter, the groups asked the Operational Safety and Health Administration to build a list of workers in need of protection, provide training to help workers reduce their own exposure, and creating a national exposure control plan.

“An adequate and immediate mandatory federal standard for infectious disease is critical to preventing the rapid spread of the disease to health care workers and first responders in particular,” the letter said.

The letter, which included the American Federation of Teachers and the American Public Health Association as signatories, followed an earlier petition from the AFL-CIO, the largest labor union in the United States.

Earlier this week, Democratic Senators also called on OSHA to implement emergency standards to safeguard against the virus.

OSHA had no immediate comment to the letter. The agency has issued voluntary guidance on how employers can address the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 116,000 people worldwide, saying that ignoring its rapid spread could result in a “cascade of failures.”

More than 1,700 cases of coronavirus and at least 40 deaths have been reported in the United States, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University and local public health authorities.

Reporting by Carl O'Donnell; Editing by David Gregorio

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