As a new administration takes office, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on. Despite the encouraging development of vaccines and their dispersal to frontline workers and the elderly, continuing efforts are being made to control the spread of the virus. Notably, the new administration has recently issued an executive order regarding OSHA standards in the workplace related to COVID-19.
In a statement released by the White House, they wrote that “The Federal Government must take swift action to reduce the risk that workers may contract COVID-19 in the workplace.” The statement continues, explaining “That will require issuing science-based guidance to help keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure, including with respect to mask-wearing; partnering with State and local governments to better protect public employees; enforcing worker health and safety requirements; and pushing for additional resources to help employers protect employees.”
Section 2 of the statement explained further guidance for protecting workers from COVID-19 under OSHA. An important piece of the executive order was a directive from President Biden to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to release revised workplace guidance by March 15, something the National Nurses United nurses union has been asking for.
Acting administrator of OSHA, Jim Frederick, said this move by President Biden is an encouraging step but shouldn’t be the end of the discussion.
“The guidance issued today is the first step in the process, but it’s certainly not the last step in that process,” he said.
Some of the updated guidance by OSHA will be replacing language that comes across as suggestive with language that is more direct.
Additionally in the executive order is a place to “launch a national program to focus OSHA enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 on violations that put the largest number of workers at serious risk or are contrary to anti-retaliation principles.” Ideally, this could help incentivize employers to implement and enforce any OSHA guidelines and emergency temporary standards.
The executive order also identifies the administration’s plan to “coordinate … a multilingual outreach campaign to inform workers and their representatives of their rights under applicable law.” They also plan to place “special emphasis” on those areas and communities that have been most affected by the pandemic. Frederick went on to say that OSHA is working on a potential emergency temporary standard and what that would include. As workers continue to put their lives on the line, more information will be released about OSHA standards and hopefully there will be more progress in protecting essential employees.
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