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Federal COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard to Protect Workers Under Consideration

  • Published
  • 27 January 2021
  • Category
  • News

President Biden issued an Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety on Jan. 21 as part of the new administration’s efforts to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control. The order may result in a federal emergency temporary standard.

Key provisions are summarized here:

  1. Policy to protect the health and safety of workers from COVID-19.

This includes issuing science-based guidance to reduce workplace exposure risk, including mask-wearing; partnering with state and local governments to protect public employees; enforcing worker health and safety requirements; and providing resources to help employers protect employees.

  1. Protecting workers from COVID-19 under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act.

The Secretary of Labor, acting through the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA), shall:

  • Issue revised guidance for employers on workplace safety during the pandemic in collaboration with other appropriate executive departments and agencies by Feb 4.
  • Consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19 are necessary, and if so issue them by March 15; this includes a determination on wearing masks in workplaces.
  • Review OSHA enforcement efforts and identify any changes that could be made to better protect workers and ensure equity in enforcement.
  • 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.
  • Coordinate with the Department of Labor’s Office of Public Affairs and Office of Public Engagement and all regional OSHA offices to conduct a multilingual outreach campaign to inform workers and their representatives of their legal rights…to include engagement with labor unions, community organizations and industries, and place an emphasis on communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

3.  Protecting other categories of workers from COVID-19. 

The Secretary of Labor, acting through the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, shall:

  • Coordinate with states that have occupational safety and health plans approved under Section 18 of the OSH Act to ensure workers are adequately protected, consistent with any revised guidance or emergency temporary standards issued by OSHA. (California, Michigan and Virginia are among states that have  adopted emergency protective standards.)
  • Consult with state and local government entities with responsibility for public employee safety and health, and with public employee unions, to bolster protections for public sector workers.
  • Explore mechanisms to protect workers not protected under the OSH Act so they remain healthy and safe on the job. This includes collaboration with Secretaries of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Transportation and Energy.
  • Direct the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health to consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19 applicable to coal and metal or non-metal mines are necessary, and if such standards are determined to be necessary and consistent with applicable law, issue them as soon as practicable.

OSHA reported Jan. 8 that it issued more than $3.9 million in citations related to COVID-19 workplace exposure risks and cases in 2020, most of them under the General Duty clause of the OSH Act.

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