Inside OSHA

December 3, 2021


A group of congressional Republicans is threatening to block a stop-gap government funding bill unless it blocks OSHA’s and other agencies’ COVID-19 vaccine policies, potentially undermining a newly announced bipartisan spending agreement and all but guaranteeing another clash on the subject at the next deadline.

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The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) will review a case that could set a new precedent for how it deals with situations where an employer “disregards” deadlines to participate in an appeal, while the Senate labor committee is poised to vote on President Joe Biden’s nominee to the panel as soon as Dec. 2.

Washington state is forging ahead with rulemaking based on OSHA’s emergency temporary standard (ETS) for COVID-19 vaccination and testing despite a court order blocking implementation of the federal rule, as officials there say they “are not delaying” work on their vaccine rule while other delegated states are weighing next steps.

The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Inspector General (OIG) says workplace safety and health ranks as one of the department’s top “management challenges,” citing a decline in OSHA enforcement, mounting whistleblower investigations, and silica protections as key subjects where the agency must improve.

OSHA is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to lift a stay blocking its emergency temporary standard (ETS) for COVID-19 vaccination, teeing up a decision by the appellate court on whether the agency will be able to implement its rule in the coming weeks -- though observers expect the Supreme Court to have the last word.

Employers’ attorneys say OSHA officials have told them the agency intends to update its 1992 process safety management (PSM) standard during President Joe Biden’s current term and could release a formal proposal as soon as next year, after the Trump administration halted an Obama-era push to rework the rule.

A Labor Department (DOL) official told a Nov. 16 advisory panel meeting that OSHA is on track to publish its National Emphasis Program (NEP) for heat danger enforcement by “late March” 2022, ahead of the next round of summer heat and in line with an administration-wide push to combat heat illness.

House and Senate Republicans are readying several measures to force votes on OSHA’s emergency temporary standard (ETS) for COVID-19 vaccines, including a Congressional Review Act (CRA) repeal measure and a threat to block any new bills to fund the federal government unless they include language scrapping the rule.

A Department of Labor (DOL) attorney says OSHA intends to release new guidance on individual exemptions from vaccine requirements under the agency’s COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS), though the agency is emphasizing that all work on implementation of the rule is paused due to an appellate court’s order.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has chosen the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to hear suits over OSHA’s emergency temporary standard (ETS) for COVID-19 vaccinations -- a boost to employers, GOP-led states and conservative groups seeking to scrap the rule, as the court is dominated by Republican nominees.