Inside OSHA

April 18, 2021

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The United Steelworkers (USW) and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) are urging President Joe Biden to nominate new members to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) and increase its budget, arguing that CSB’s current status as a one-person panel has rendered it “dysfunctional.”

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The White House is backing House Democrats’ bill that would give OSHA a one-year deadline to craft a workplace violence standard for health care and social services workers, after a long-pending rulemaking process stalled during the Trump administration, though the legislation faces an uncertain path in the Senate.

President Joe Biden is proposing $2.1 billion in fiscal year 2022 funding for OSHA and other Department of Labor (DOL) worker protection agencies, representing an increase of $304 million or 17 percent over the FY21 enacted level to ramp up enforcement and regulatory efforts to protect employees.

Unions and worker safety groups are praising President Joe Biden’s selection of California OSHA (Cal/OSHA) chief Doug Parker to lead the federal OSHA and are urging him to swiftly enact a COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS), which employers’ attorneys fear Parker could model on Cal/OSHA’s strict virus policy.

OSHA has announced its first whistleblower stakeholder meeting under the Biden administration, giving unions, worker safety groups and others a fresh venue to advance calls for dramatically strengthening the agency’s program that protects employees from retaliations for reporting violations of workplace safety rules.

The Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which investigates releases of hazardous or toxic chemicals and other industrial incidents, will soon draw up a new board order as recommended by EPA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that oversees CSB, while embarking on a hiring push to bolster the ranks of its investigators.

Worker safety groups are urging OSHA to issue “within the next few weeks” an emergency temporary standard (ETS) for COVID-19, arguing the already-delayed rulemaking is urgently needed, following reports that new Labor Secretary Marty Walsh has directed the agency to update the ETS to reflect new research on the virus.

An industry attorney says chemical makers and users could soon face an “absurd,” onerous mandate to assess the hazards posed by chemicals they produce or use, not only in their own operations but in all possible downstream uses and combinations -- a duty he says could be aimed at supporting EPA’s risk evaluations of existing chemicals.

Former Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) Chairman James Sullivan says the Biden OSHA’s plan to step up enforcement, particularly on COVID-19 worker exposures, poses an “interesting” test for OSHRC and its precedent setting a high bar for the agency to sustain penalties in some enforcement cases.

A federal district court judge has dismissed a suit filed by Pennsylvania meat-packing plant workers that aimed to force OSHA to take action against their employer for inadequate protections against COVID-19, finding the OSH Act does not allow such suits unless an inspector makes a formal finding of “imminent danger” at the site.

 

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