OSHA issues a new Covid safety rule, but only for the health care industry.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a rule on Thursday outlining the steps employers should take to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19 but that would only apply to the health care industry, not other high-risk workplaces, as the Biden administration began indicated in.

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“The science tells us that health care workers, especially those who are regularly exposed to the virus, are most at risk of the pandemic right now,” Labor Secretary Martin J Walsh told reporters. “So after an extensive review of the science and data, OSHA determined that a health care specific safety requirement would have the greatest impact.”

The rule would require health care employers to provide protective equipment to mask, screen and triage patients for exposure to COVID-19 and ensure adequate ventilation and distancing, among other measures. It would also require employers to provide adequate paid time off for workers to receive vaccinations and manage their side effects.

Fully vaccinated workers will not be required to wear masks and observe social distancing.

Mr Walsh, whose department includes OSHA, said the administration is issuing alternative guidance to employers outside of health care that will focus on workplaces in the manufacturing, meat processing, grocery and retail industries.

Groups focused on workers’ issues criticized the decision to limit the rule, known as an emergency standard, to health care employers, arguing that the virus poses serious risks to other workers.

“We know that workers in many industries outside of health care face high risk of COVID,” Debbie Berkowitz, a senior OSHA official during the Obama administration who is now on the National Employment Law Project, wrote in an email. . “Especially in low-wage industries like meat processing that disproportionately have black and brown workers.”

She said: “We need to make sure these workers are still protected by mitigation measures.”

Some union leaders expressed dismay that the Biden administration had abandoned its earlier plans.

Mark Perrone, president of United Food & End, said, “OSHA’s new COVID workplace safety standard today represents a broken promise for the millions of American workers at grocery stores and meatpacking plants who have become ill and are at risk as the pandemic advances.” Died in line.” The Commercial Workers International Union said in a statement.

Ms Berkowitz and Mr Peron had hoped that Mr Biden would chart a different course from his predecessor, with OSHA refusing to issue a standard relating to COVID-19.

During the Trump administration, OSHA adopted a policy of largely limiting COVID-related inspections to a small number of high-risk industries such as health care and emergency response. It didn’t include meatpacking – which studies indicate In this high-risk group – the virus was a major source of transmission.

Some activist groups have called on President Donald J. to enforce safety regulations in the health care industry. Granted OSHA credits under Trump, including a proposed penalty of more than $1 million for violations at dozens of health care facilities and nursing homes. But critics accused the agency of failing to fine meat processors for lax safety standards, such as the failure to adequately distance workers.

Mr Walsh indicated that the risk for most workers outside health care had decreased as cases fell and vaccination rates rose. He also indicated that guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month advised people who were vaccinated that they generally do not need to wear masks indoors, according to OSHA’s comprehensive COVID-19 standard. played a role in the decision to abandon.

“OSHA has tailored the rule that reflects the reality on the ground, the success of the vaccine effort, as well as the latest guidance from the CDC and the changing nature of the pandemic,” Mr. Walsh said on the call.

David Michaels, the head of OSHA during the Obama administration, said CDC guidance has made the broader OSHA rule more difficult to implement. “To justify an emergency standard, OSHA has to show that there is a serious threat,” Dr. Michaels said. “For this to happen, CDC will need to clarify its recommendation and say that for many workers, a serious threat remains.”

Without such explanation, Dr. Employer groups would probably have challenged any new OSHA rule in court, arguing that CDC guidance indicated a rule was unnecessary, said Michaels, who is now a professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health.

Dr Michaels said the standard was an overdue step but it was disappointing that no COVID-specific standards had been issued for industries such as meatpacking, reform and retail. “If risks are not controlled in these workplaces, they will continue to be important drivers of infection,” he said.

OSHA’s acting chief, Jim Frederick, said on the call that the agency had the power, even without issuing comprehensive COVID rules, through its so-called general duty clause, to enforce protections for workers outside the health care industry and that it continues. Will do so.

He said several meatpacking facilities were inspected along with other workplaces OSHA program implementing additional checks in high-risk industries.

OSHA submitted a draft of an emergency standard for review by the White House regulatory office and administration in April spent weeks meeting With activists and industry groups about its potential impact.

“As far as the meetings took place,” Frederick said, “we are participants in those meetings, we receive those comments and take them into account in the overall work being done by the agency.”

Employers will have two weeks to comply with most of the provisions of the rule.

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