The Biden administration has mandated federal workplace safety officials to do more to stop the spread of the coronavirus at work.
On his first full day of work, President Joseph Biden signed a executive order Ask the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to strengthen enforcement of current safety rules and consider requiring employers to implement additional safeguards.
The OSHA warrant was one of ten executive orders issued by Biden. Others include orders calling for federal departments to issue guidelines to help schools reopen and expedite testing and manufacturing of protective equipment
“The federal government must take swift action to reduce the risk of employees contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. This requires scientifically based guidelines to protect employees against exposure to COVID-19, also with regard to wearing a mask; work with state and local governments to better protect government employees; enforcement of health and safety requirements for employees; and pushing for additional resources to help employers protect workers, ”the initiation of the injunction told OSHA.
The warrant calls on OSHA, which is part of the Department of Labor, to work with government agencies and secretaries from other federal agencies, including Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Transportation and Energy to "investigate mechanisms to protect workers that are not protected ”, so that they remain healthy and safe at work during the pandemic.
On March 4, OSHA will issue revised guidance to employers on workplace safety in connection with the pandemic and also consider the need for temporary emergency standards for COVID-19, including with regard to masks in the workplace. If such contingency standards are determined to be necessary, OSHA must publish them by March 15.
Unions, many of which backed Biden in the presidential race, regularly urged the former Trump administration's OSHA to do more, including passing temporary emergency workplace safety standards related to COVID-19. The Trump administration opposed the enactment of such standards that Biden has now instructed OSHA to consider. Temporary emergency standards raise the bar by setting mandatory and specific measures that employers must take and they speed up enforcement.
Unions also criticized Trump's OSHA for being reluctant to inspect and fine employers for lax security. OSHA can only fine employers for violating workplace safety rules after it has conducted inspections and investigations.
Under the Trump administration, OSHA had a policy of inspecting workplaces only in high-risk sectors, such as healthcare. In May, it said it is expanding its COVID-19 inspections to other industries.
In early April, OSHA relaxed admission requirements for businesses other than healthcare, first responders and prisons. In May, OSHA said it would again require all companies to register COVID-19 as a workplace illness, with the employer reasonably identifying that the infection had occurred at work.
Trump's OSHA has perhaps been most criticized for dealing with the security concerns in the meat packaging industry, which President Trump ordered to reopen on April 28. According to one study, as many as one in 12 cases of Covid-19 in the early stage of the pandemic was linked to outbreaks in meat-packing plants and subsequent spread into surrounding communities. The Trump administration opposed mandatory security regulations and went ahead with voluntary guidelines.
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