By Jess McCluer
NGFA Sr. Vice President of Safety and Regulatory Affairs
The U.S. Department of Labor announced April 26 that it sent a draft emergency temporary standard (ETS) on the COVID-19 pandemic to the White House for review.
President Biden on Jan. 21 issued an executive order directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to revise its coronavirus guidance and take other actions to protect workers from the ongoing pandemic, including considering whether new safety rules under an ETS for COVID19 were needed and, if so, issuing them by March 15.
“OSHA has been working diligently on its proposal and has taken the appropriate time to work with its science agency partners, economic agencies, and others in the U.S. government to get this proposed emergency standard right,” said a Labor Department spokesperson on April 26 after OSHA sent the draft to the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
While OSHA has implemented several other COVID-19-related actions under the Biden administration – including the March 12 launch of a National Emphasis Program focusing enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at risk of contracting the coronavirus – it missed its deadline in announcing the emergency temporary standard by several weeks.
Marty Walsh, confirmed as Labor Secretary on March 22, took on review of the process. Since the onset of the pandemic, worker safety advocates and Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly called for an ETS.
The Trump administration deemed new rules unnecessary, but the Biden team explicitly called for new rules during its campaign.
The National Grain and Feed Association is a member of the “Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition,” which formally submitted comments to OSHA regarding the potential creation of a federal ETS for COVID-19.
The coalition provided numerous recommendations that focus on providing flexibility to employers to comply with many federal, state and local guidelines that have been in place since the pandemic began.
The main concern is that an emergency standard will be outdated as soon as it is published and could conflict with other state and local requirements such as reporting and recordkeeping.
The coalition has a meeting scheduled with the OMB to further discuss the points raised in its formal comments.
OMB is expected to take about two weeks for the review before it publishes the requirements, which are likely to take effect immediately.
Meanwhile, some Republicans have expressed opposition to federal standards, arguing they are not needed now that vaccines are available and it would “reverse the Trump administration’s effective policy and ignore the substantial efforts and investments employers and employees have successfully made, based on science-backed guidelines, to keep their workplaces safe.”
The Government Accountability Office noted in a report published in February that OSHA hasn’t used its authority to issue an emergency temporary standard since 1983.
- From the April 30 NGFA Newsletter