Inside OSHA

September 26, 2021

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California OSHA (Cal/OSHA) is floating a draft permanent COVID-19 worker-safety standard that aims to provide more compliance flexibility and streamlined requirements compared with its pandemic emergency temporary standard (ETS), in part by incorporating some core elements of the policy into its existing Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP).

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Retail industry groups are asking OSHA to address a variety of “vital concerns” in its COVID-19 vaccine rule, warning that President Joe Biden’s plan raises questions on how the agency will consider issues like employee classifications, exemptions and testing costs, and are further seeking a 90-day phase-in period to ease those challenges.

Industry attorneys say they expect OSHA’s forthcoming rule on COVID-19 vaccination to offer employers the “option” of mandating vaccines for workers rather than offering weekly tests as an alternative, among other potential details they say are likely based on statements from President Joe Biden and agency officials.

OSHA is strengthening enforcement and outreach “to better protect heat-exposed workers” as part of a larger “multi-prong” initiative from the Biden administration to combat heat-related illness, after worker-safety and environmental groups pressed the White House for action following this summer’s record-setting heat waves.

OSHA’s New England Region I is stepping up enforcement targeting “tree trimming and removal, landscaping and site preparation” work, saying the 31 reported worker deaths in those sectors since 2016 are “alarming and unacceptable” to the point where they warrant a formal regional emphasis program (REP).

OSHA’s director of maritime and agriculture safety says the Biden administration is requiring all new OSHA guidance products such as workplace posters and safety notices to go through review by agency leadership, adding a new layer of scrutiny even as officials are aiming to release a slew of such guides by the end of 2021.

Legal scrutiny of OSHA’s pending vaccine mandate is ramping up, as Arizona’s attorney general has filed what appears to be the first suit to block the rule while unions that challenged the agency’s earlier COVID-19 standard for the healthcare sector are suspending that suit to consider how the agency’s new policy will affect it.

Provisions in the House’s $3.5 trillion spending bill would raise the statutory penalties for OSH Act violations by a factor of 10, up to a minimum of $50,000 and maximum of $700,000 -- setting the stage for Democrats to pass a key element of their a long-running push for broader reforms to the law.

OSHA’s forthcoming COVID-19 vaccination rule is getting a cautious reception from labor and work-safety groups, with several saying “the devil is in the details” and urging officials to carefully balance concerns for worker safety and privacy while maintaining calls for a broader workplace health rule.

Republican governors are vowing to oppose President Joe Biden’s newly announced plan for OSHA to mandate strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements for private-sector employers, threatening court challenges and executive orders aimed at blocking any workplace vaccine requirement.

 

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