Inside OSHA

October 20, 2020

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Michigan has enacted the second binding set of state-issued workplace standards in the United States for COVID-19 after the state’s high court struck down Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s (D) executive orders aimed at curbing the pandemic, with the new rule setting broad mandates for employers as well as sector-specific requirements.

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The California Chamber of Commerce is warning its members the state’s newly enacted law mandating notices and other responses to workplace COVID-19 infections will be onerous and confusing to implement, while revealing that “cleanup” legislation is in the works to address what the group says are some of its most problematic provisions.

Speakers at an Oct. 13 OSHA stakeholder meeting on its whistleblower program urged the agency to bolster outreach to employers and workers alike on how it operates, rework several of its rules on the subject and bolster its resources as complaints related to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to swell.

Top Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee are attacking OSHA’s recent guidance on reporting worker hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 as a move to “eliminate, for all practical purposes” mandatory reporting of workplace infections, and demanding details on how the agency crafted the policy.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is asking a federal district court to dismiss a suit from unions and a worker-safety group over its program that allows some poultry slaughterhouses to increase line speeds, arguing that they have shown no proof the higher speeds pose a “substantial” risk to workers.

California lawmakers are urging the state OSHA (Cal/OSHA) to speed up its investigations of potential COVID-19 workplace safety violations, and to focus its efforts on the highly vulnerable sectors of health care, food processing, agriculture and warehousing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new guidance finding potential for COVID-19 to spread through the air -- separate from the short-range droplets believed to be the virus’ primary mode of travel -- could force employers to update their infection-control measures in order to comply with OSHA standards.

The collapse of bipartisan talks on COVID-19 relief and President Donald Trump’s vow not to field any new offers until after the election all but kills GOP plans to insert employee liability waivers in the bill and Democrats’ hopes of using the legislation as a vehicle to force OSHA to issue an emergency virus safety standard.

OSHA is promising “enforcement discretion” to employers who cannot perform otherwise mandatory fit tests on powered respirators because of ongoing test equipment shortages, as long as the businesses make “good-faith efforts” to obtain the required supplies and reduce workers’ need to use respiratory protection gear.

OSHA has announced citations against an additional 28 employers for violations related to the COVID-19 pandemic, accelerating its pace of enforcement -- especially against health care and nursing home facilities -- amid accusations that the agency is not doing enough to address workplace exposures to the disease.

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