Inside OSHA

June 17, 2021


The Senate labor committee backed Doug Parker’s nomination as the next head of OSHA on a mostly party-line vote June 16, setting the stage for his likely confirmation by the full Senate later this summer, just as the agency is laying out its first rulemaking agenda in the Biden era following its release of the long-awaited COVID-19 standard.

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California OSHA’s (Cal/OSHA) standards board has scrapped its contentious revision to the state’s COVID-19 standards that drew fire from employers and others for what critics said were overly strict masking and distancing requirements, and is proposing a more lenient update that it could adopt as soon as June 17.

Unions and their allies are pushing back on OSHA’s emergency temporary standard (ETS) for COVID-19, arguing that limiting the rule to healthcare workers leaves at-risk workers in other industries unprotected, even as employers’ attorneys are warning that the agency could soon tighten enforcement across all industry sectors.

OSHA has released its COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS) for healthcare employers, alongside new general-industry guidance for the pandemic that focuses on vaccination and recommends infection-control measures only for workplaces where some employees are not yet vaccinated.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh says OSHA will release June 10 a COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS) that applies only to the medical sector, rejecting arguments from unions and safety groups that a general-industry standard is still needed despite widespread vaccinations.

Anonymous workers at a Pennsylvania meat plant who sued OSHA over its decision not to take enforcement action over what they said was an “imminent danger” of COVID-19 infections there are appealing a federal district judge’s dismissal of the case, setting up a rare precedential decision on whether the OSH Act allows such suits.

The Department of Labor (DOL) is suing a New York healthcare center over allegations that it fired a whistleblower who raised alarms over potential COVID-19 exposures at the business -- the first time it has announced opening a lawsuit over whistleblower claims related to the pandemic.

Employers and industry groups hope to fast-track further changes to California OSHA’s (Cal/OSHA) COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS) after the agency’s regulatory body adopted new requirements in “bizarre” fashion on June 4, drawing charges that the new mandates clash with federal guidance and the state’s reopening plan.

OSHA has named five new members to its Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH) and renewed another 10 for new two-year terms, including an official with North America's Building Trades Unions (NABTU) who will serve as chair, in the Biden administration’s first round of appointments to an agency panel.

The White House is proposing a $64 million boost to OSHA’s budget including 362 new full-time equivalent (FTE) staff positions, in what would be an across-the-board boost to the agency’s capacity for rulemaking, enforcement and outreach that the Biden administration says is needed to “reassert its position” in national safety policy.