Inside OSHA

April 4, 2020

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A key House Democrat and an asbestos awareness group are stepping up efforts to advance stalled bipartisan legislation seeking to ban asbestos, arguing EPA’s recently released draft evaluation of the minerals under the revised toxics law is too narrowly focused and ignores multiple aspects of asbestos risk as well an appellate court ruling.

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EPA is urging a federal appeals court to reject environmentalists’ request to stay litigation challenging its rollback of Obama-era chemical disaster safety mandates as the agency weighs their reconsideration petitions, arguing a stay runs counter to the Clean Air Act (CAA) even if petitions for rule reconsideration are pending.

As they seek to stall legal challenges, critics of EPA’s rule rolling back Obama-era chemical disaster safety mandates are urging the agency to reconsider the measure, arguing in administrative petitions that officials “cherry pick[ed]” new data, ignored significant continuing chemical accidents and relied on new rationales.

EPA is moving ahead with a planned scientific review of its just-released draft evaluation of asbestos, which found the substance poses unreasonable risk to workers, consumers and others, despite calls from science advisors and other critics who had urged the agency to delay the review until after the coronavirus pandemic.

Top House Democrats say they will include a mandate that OSHA issue an emergency temporary infectious disease standard to address risks from the coronavirus to healthcare employees and expand protections in other industries in their next bill to address the pandemic after they were forced to drop the mandate from prior measures.

Construction and contracting firms are urging OSHA to soften its guidance on how the sector should record workplace absences due to COVID-19 during the current pandemic, warning that the current requirement to determine if an infection is “work-related” will put employers “in an almost impossible position.”

EPA’s draft evaluation of trichloroethylene (TCE) is driving new calls from its science advisors and a top former OSHA official to strengthen its analyses of occupational exposures to chemicals in the first 10 evaluations, suggesting the agency more fully address protections beyond personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Senate’s massive $2 trillion emergency bill to address fallout from the coronavirus pandemic provides billions of dollars to increase supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers, but does not mandate an OSHA emergency standard for the workers that House Democrats are seeking.

State attorneys general (AGs) and employment lawyers are opposing the White House Office of Management & Budget’s (OMB) call for input on potentially tightening due process protections in civil enforcement actions at OSHA and elsewhere, arguing that there is no rational or legal basis for any such reforms.

OSHA has reworked weeks-old guidance for waste companies where workers could handle material contaminated by COVID-19 to say that the virus “does not require special precautions” other than those usually needed for waste handling, reinforcing claims by waste firms that their workers are already protected.

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