Inside OSHA

May 29, 2020

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Lawmakers at a May 28 House hearing on the Trump administration’s coronavirus response sparred over whether OSHA needs to craft an emergency temporary standard (ETS) for protecting workers from infections, previewing arguments that could arise in labor unions’ pending lawsuit to force issuance of an ETS.

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Former Obama OSHA chief David Michaels says that with little chance of OSHA issuing binding rules on how to protect workers from COVID-19, employers should develop safeguards collaboratively with their workers to ensure full participation in those measures.

Appellate judges at recent oral argument in a closely watched case over the scope of OSHA’s process safety management (PSM) standard gave little indication of how they plan to rule, as members of the three-judge panel all appeared to wrestle with several aspects of the highly complicated case.

President Donald Trump is ordering OSHA and other agencies to launch a new deregulatory push to help drive an economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic, issuing an executive order that urges agency heads to scale back existing rules, make permanent temporary waivers, and take other steps that may bolster employment and recovery.

OSHA is vowing to increase in-person inspections as states move to loosen restrictions on business operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, replacing its interim guidance on investigating claims of workplace violations related to the disease with a plan to ramp up its enforcement actions as local conditions allow.

The AFL-CIO is seeking a court order for OSHA to swiftly craft an emergency temporary standard (ETS) for protecting workers from COVID-19 infections, arguing that the agency’s decision to rely on non-binding guidance and existing rules rather than crafting a new coronavirus policy is an “abdication of statutory responsibility.”

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) says a just-released Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that calls for strengthening cybersecurity protocols in a federal chemical facility safety program underscore what he says is a need to reauthorize an enhanced versions of the program.

A senior EPA toxics official says the agency is preparing to issue in the next month a series of unilateral orders against some submitters of new chemical use notifications, though the official says the moves will be done carefully to target unresponsive companies in a way that is being supported by industry.

State attorneys general (AGs) from 19 states and the District of Columbia are urging OSHA to tighten and make binding its guidance for how to reduce COVID-19 exposure risks at meatpacking plants, warning President Donald Trump that his order to keep the facilities open will boost infections without stricter mandatory requirements.

Stakeholders are warning that OSHA faces a wave of impending whistleblower complaints about unsafe workplaces as businesses in some states begin to reopen after months of limited operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are urging the agency to devote more resources to processing virus-related complaints.

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