Union warns of coronavirus exposure in VA facilities

The American Federation of Government Employees filed complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about alleged violations of safety standards.

Employees and patients at Veterans Affairs' facilities are at risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 by not taking required precautions, according to the American Federation of Government Employees.

AFGE's National Veterans Affairs Council filed a complaint against the Department of Veterans Affairs for violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 in failing to provide a safe workplace environment by directing its employees, including those at high risk for transmission, to ignore the 14-day quarantine guidelines and report to work despite being in contact with potentially infected or confirmed positive patients, NVAC President Alma Lee said in the claim.

Lee said the VA had "[had] not supplied all federal employees with the [personal protective equipment] they desperately need to protect themselves, their peers, and patients from COVID-19 exposure" such as facemasks, N95 respirator masks, gloves, and surgical gowns. 

The NVAC President also alleged that the VA had failed to properly isolate confirmed patients and those suspected to have contracted coronavirus, creating an unsafe workplace environment, and had refused to provide testing to VA employees who had come into contact with suspected or positive coronavirus patients.

The VA complaint follows a similar against federal prisons. The Councils of Prison Labor C-33, a prison labor union within AFGE, alleged in a March 31 OSHA complaint that the Bureau of Prisons was in violation of a federal law that ensures employees are free from "recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm."

The union alleged that BOP officials flouted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on self-quarantine for individuals with COVID-19 symptoms by ordering staff to report to work within two days even if they had recently been tested for coronavirus or had been in contact with inmates who showed symptoms of the virus. According to the BOP, eight inmates have died from coronavirus, while 195 have tested positive, while 63 staff have tested positive.

A version of this article first appeared on FCW, a partner site with Defense Systems. 

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