Inside OSHA

July 6, 2020

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is voicing support for another COVID-19 stimulus measure in response to the nationwide rise in infections, teeing up a battle over employer liability waivers that he says will be a GOP requirement in any pandemic bill but which Democrats and labor groups have opposed just as strongly.

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The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is fighting labor unions’ argument that an Inspector General critique of USDA worker safety data undermines its contested rule allowing some slaughterhouses to increase line speeds, countering that the “preliminary” data has “no bearing on the validity of the Final Rule.”

OSHA is warning offshore fish-processing facilities to be prepared to quarantine workers who develop COVID-19 infections and to make plans for their safe transport back to shore, in the agency’s latest sector-specific virus guidance that highlights the challenges facing industries that depend on self-contained facilities.

Industry attorneys are largely welcoming a long-awaited IRS plan allowing companies to deduct from their federal taxes fines and penalties paid to the government under consent decrees, such as those resolving health, safety, and environmental enforcement actions.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking remand from a federal district court to reconsider its rule allowing higher line speeds at some swine slaughterhouses after a judge faulted its consideration of worker safety risks, but labor groups challenging the policy oppose the reconsideration and say it would be a sham.

Citing OSHA’s refusal to develop an employer safety standard to protect against COVID-19 infections, Virginia’s health department is moving forward with the country’s first workplace rule to prevent or reduce infections in the workplace that could be a model for other states to use.

Employment lawyers expect an “explosion” of lawsuits over workplace exposures to COVID-19 in the coming months and are warning employers to closely follow guidance from OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies to either avoid such complaints or provide solid defenses against them.

A newly published study finds public accusations against employers that violate OSHA standards are significantly more effective at boosting compliance than the agency’s facility inspections alone, not only at those workplaces but also at nearby competitors, concluding that “regulation by shaming” should be a top priority for OSHA.

The Center for Progressive Reform (CPR), a think tank that advocates for “robust” health and safety rules, is floating an aggressive agenda for federal agencies and Congress to protect workers from COVID-19, including issuance of an emergency OSHA standard to prevent infections that the agency is refusing to issue.

The AFL-CIO is asking the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review a three-judge panel’s decision rejecting its bid to force OSHA to craft an emergency temporary standard (ETS) for the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the panel judges “wholly failed to consider” several issues in their two-page ruling.

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