Inside OSHA

August 8, 2020

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Several recent administrative law judge (ALJ) rulings scrapping OSHA citations against the Postal Service (USPS) for exposing mail carriers to excessive heat could end the agency’s longstanding reliance on a National Weather Service (NWS) guide for determining the severity of heat exposures.

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OSHA is asking a federal district court to reject a lawsuit that seeks to mandate enforcement action against a Pennsylvania meat-packing plant over fears about inadequate worker protections against COVID-19, arguing that the workers have not met the OSH Act’s “high bar” to override regulators’ enforcement discretion.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has rejected the AFL-CIO’s bid for rehearing in its suit aiming to force OSHA to craft a COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS), shifting focus from the case back to Congress’ negotiations over potentially mandating a virus standard in the next pandemic response bill.

An official with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) says the state’s novel emergency temporary standard (ETS) for COVID-19 that could be a model for other states focuses largely on mandatory infection control plans for all workplaces that carry at least a “medium” infection risk.

The House has approved its fiscal year 2021 budget for OSHA with amendments that would boost the agency’s whistleblower programs and require issuance of a binding workplace standard for COVID-19, setting up an eventual clash with the Senate although that chamber has yet to release its own slate of funding bills.

Labor unions and the group Public Citizen are asking a federal district court to scrap the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) program that allows poultry slaughterhouses to raise their line speeds above regulatory maximums, saying it violates a 2014 rule for the sector that the Trump administration never withdrew or amended.

Democrats and Republicans are taking hard lines on the employer liability waiver in the GOP’s newly unveiled COVID-19 relief bill, posing the risk of a stalemate on the next virus economic relief bill as Democrats say the waiver is a “non-starter” while the GOP counters that it must be included in the legislation.

Employer representatives are objecting to differences between California OSHA’s requirements for companies to record and report COVID-19 cases among employees and federal OSHA requirements, and urging the state to align its rules more closely with OSHA -- but California appears to be broadly rejecting the request.

Workers at a Pennsylvania meat-packing plant are suing OSHA for what they say is the agency’s unlawful failure to respond to complaints of “imminent” danger of COVID-19 infection at the facility, arguing that the OSH Act gives the agency no choice but to quickly inspect the facility or to formally reject the complaint as unwarranted.

A bipartisan group of Midwest and coal state House members is pushing legislation that would force the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to develop new workplace COVID-19 protections for miners, in a sign that the partisan gridlock over broader OSHA standards might not extend to sector-specific policies.

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