Inside OSHA

May 25, 2022

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Unions and employers used the final round of written comments on OSHA’s planned long-term COVID-19 standard for healthcare facilities to renew and supplement their arguments on the scope of the rule, with labor groups offering an array of claims to support strict mandates while industry focused on responding to specific questions raised by officials.

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California OSHA (Cal/OSHA) is imposing a combined $1.75 million in fines against an oil refinery and three contractors for “serious” violations following a fatal 2021 incident, concluding that several of the companies failed to determine acceptable “entry conditions” for a confined chamber where a worker suffocated due to high argon levels.

OSHA officials used a recent whistleblower stakeholder meeting targeting the healthcare sector to tout what they said has been a major expansion of the program’s enforcement staff and resources during the Biden administration, even as speakers from labor and safety groups urged officials to pursue much more aggressive policy reforms.

Democrats have introduced their latest bill seeking to ban all uses of asbestos, but its prospects appear uncertain at best as it is even stricter than a 2019 version that collapsed without a vote, including a phaseout schedule mirroring EPA’s proposed TSCA rule that industry opposes and a definition of commercial “asbestos” similar to what has divided supporters of past legislation.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is seeking comments on a strategy to bolster personal protective technology (PPT) for healthcare workers, saying the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need to support not only protective gear in the sector but technology supporting it like fit-testing and materials research.

A federal appeals court has denied a Kentucky mining firm’s bid to narrow or even scrap as unconstitutional the statutory ban on warning employers or workers of imminent safety inspections, rejecting the company’s argument that the restriction -- which appears in both the Mine Safety and Health Act and the OSH Act -- violates its free-speech rights.

The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) has rejected a Florida contracting firm’s argument that the multi-employer doctrine that allows OSHA to cite several companies at the same worksite for a single hazard conflicts with precedent in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, even as it overturned the citation at the heart of the dispute.

Industry and business groups are rejecting as inadequate amendments to a pending California bill that would prohibit employers from taking any “adverse action” against employees who either leave or refuse to report to a job site if they feel “unsafe” due to an “emergency” situation, saying the revised legislation remains “very subjective” and overbroad.

Senate Democrats have unveiled their counterpart to a House bill that would give OSHA a one-year deadline to craft a long-sought workplace violence standard, after it passed the lower chamber by a bipartisan margin in 2021, giving supporters hope that it could overcome a filibuster in this Congress although so far it has no Republican co-sponsors.

California OSHA (Cal/OSHA) is posting new fact sheets and updated frequently asked question (FAQ) documents for the recently adopted third revision to its COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS), highlighting changes to key definitions and requirements for testing, quarantining, face masking and more.

 

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