Inside OSHA

December 4, 2020

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OSHA is standing behind its refusal to classify cloth face coverings as personal protective equipment (PPE) subject to the same standards as medical gowns, respirators and other protective gear for workers, but is leaving the door open to reconsidering that decision if future research warrants it.

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California employers and their attorneys are looking to a pending advisory panel to secure eased mandates in an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to protect workers from COVID-19 recently adopted by the state’s OSHA (Cal/OSHA) standards board, arguing that numerous provisions appear impossible to comply with and potentially illegal.

President-elect Joe Biden has named Obama-era OSHA chief David Michaels to his COVID-19 task force, drawing praise from labor and worker safety groups that say Michaels’ appointment shows that the new administration will focus on workplace protections in its pandemic response.

The family of an Iowa meat-packing worker who died of COVID-19 is claiming that the company violated OSHA standards and several laws by failing to mandate face coverings, social distancing and other protective measures, in addition to allegations that mangers bet money on how many employees would contract the disease.

Five Democratic senators are pushing the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to quickly craft a long-pending update to its silica standard in response to a recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that found its current policies to be “out of date” and insufficiently protective of workers’ health.

OSHA is touting a $1.5 million settlement in a criminal enforcement case centered on a worker’s 2016 death by crushing at an Alabama auto-parts plant, including a three-year judicially mandated timeline for the firm to improve hazardous energy control measures at the facility.

Oregon has formally enacted its emergency temporary standard (ETS) for COVID-19, broadening several requirements from a proposed version floated earlier in the fall and becoming the fourth state to advance targeted worker protection standards amid the pandemic, with compliance deadlines starting as soon as Dec. 7.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is proposing to formally adopt a set of 14 safety standards for electric motor-driven mining equipment and related accessories that were crafted by voluntary standard-setting groups -- a step industry says will pave the way for rapid adoption of updated, safer technology.

New OSHA data on its COVID-19 enforcement shows the agency is most often citing employers for violating respiratory protection standards but rarely invokes the general duty clause, even as OSHA is claiming that it can use that authority to mandate distancing, face coverings and other measures not required in regulation.

The California OSHA (Cal/OSHA) standards board is poised to adopt an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to protect workers from COVID-19 amid 11th-hour calls by employer and industry groups to ease some requirements, and as Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is ratcheting up restrictions on the public and businesses in response to soaring infections.

 

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