Inside OSHA

February 28, 2021

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OSHA is floating the first update to its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) since 2012 -- a move that would more closely align the policy with current international guidelines for chemical labeling in the workplace and could also drive a new effort to incorporate those same requirements into EPA rules.

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Unions, worker safety groups and others are calling on the Biden administration to update public-health guidance on COVID-19 to explicitly acknowledge that the coronavirus spreads through aerosols -- a step they say would immediately lead to stricter workplace infection controls.

Unions and environmental groups are asking courts to overturn EPA’s findings on whether workers face “unreasonable risks” from a host of chemicals including asbestos and the solvent methylene chloride, even as the agency itself is wrestling with whether to craft new rules for the substances in addition to OSHA standards.

OSHA is expanding its whistleblower protection program under new statutory authority created in two laws enacted at the end of the Trump administration, including a statute that expanded prohibitions on money laundering and another that created a new anti-retaliation protection for antitrust cases.

A California state senator is advancing legislation to bolster California OSHA (Cal/OSHA) enforcement measures to protect workers from COVID-19, provide new tools to hold large employers accountable for workplace health and safety violations, and encourage workers to report unsafe working conditions while preventing employer retaliation.

House Democrats are pushing new legislation to reverse the landmark 2012 court ruling that imposed a strict six-month limit on OSHA’s enforcement of recordkeeping and reporting mandates, following release of a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that blames the decision for a dramatic enforcement drop.

New York is suing Amazon over what it claims is the retail giant’s failure to protect workers from COVID-19 at its facilities in New York City, creating another front in the wide-ranging court battle over whether OSHA’s “primary jurisdiction” over workplace safety preempts states’ enforcement of their pandemic rules.

OSHA is maintaining its defense of a Trump-era decision not to take enforcement action against a Pennsylvania meat-packing plant over conditions workers say pose an “imminent” threat of COVID-19 infection, even as the Biden administration is vowing to pursue stricter workplace safeguards and enforcement during the pandemic.

Amazon is suing New York’s state government to block an enforcement action over COVID-19 exposures at one of its warehouses -- claiming the action is preempted by the OSH Act and further escalating a legal battle over whether states can enforce their pandemic protections in workplaces that OSHA regulates.

Progressive and safety groups are stepping up their push for Congress to reform the OSH Act, including calling for legislation that would allow workers to sue their employers directly over violations of OSHA standards, seeing Democratic control of Congress and the White House as an opportunity to pass new workplace safety legislation.

 

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