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Biden Signs Order to Create COVID OSHA Standard

Unions have pushed for the safety standard for months

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jan 21, 2021

One day after taking the oath of office to become the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden has hit the ground running with a number of Executive Orders (EO) aimed at controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. One of these orders directs OSHA to create a COVID safety workplace standard, something that unions have been pushing for since COVID reached the United States.

By signing the EO, Biden is directing OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), to create an emergency temporary workplace safety standard that is specifically related to COVID-19. OSHA is expected to implement the safety standard quickly since they have had months to prepare. Since it is an emergency standard, it will not have to go through the normal rule-making process that requires a lengthy public comment period.

“It is critical that the federal government protect the health and safety of America’s workers and take swift action to prevent workers from contracting COVID-19 in the workplace,” the Biden administration said in a pandemic strategy document.

“By issuing this overdue and desperately needed Executive Order on his first full day in office, President Biden is clearly prioritizing strong COVID-19 protections for working people,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. “We applaud this swift action that will save lives and protect workers who face dangerous conditions daily while serving our communities.”

Once OSHA issues an emergency temporary workplace standard, the department will have more latitude to go after employers who are not meeting basic COVID-19 safety protocols. UCOMM has previously reported a decrease in OSHA investigations during the COVID era and an outbreak in meatpacking plants that led to the deaths of numerous workers, so this standard is sorely needed to protect American workers.

The safety standard could also create an industry standard for wearing PPE during the pandemic. For example, they could require employees to wear masks in supermarkets in states without a COVID-19 mask mandate.

“Strong enforceable standards would require employers to develop workplace safety plans, implement science-based protection measures, train workers, and report outbreaks,” Trumka said. “It is a key piece of Biden’s national strategy to ramp up COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, and the production of personal protective equipment so we can beat this virus once and for all. The AFL-CIO and our affiliates have been calling for a workplace standard since March, and this order is a critical first step to a comprehensive plan that will keep us safe on the job. Now, we must win strong safety and health provisions in the next coronavirus relief package and rebuild OSHA, MSHA, and the entire Labor Department with a renewed commitment to workplace safety.”

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