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COVID-19

Biden orders OSHA to strengthen COVID-19 safety rules

Justin Ho Jan 22, 2021
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An employee wipes down outdoor tables at a restaurant in Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
COVID-19

Biden orders OSHA to strengthen COVID-19 safety rules

Justin Ho Jan 22, 2021
Heard on:
An employee wipes down outdoor tables at a restaurant in Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

President Joe Biden has signed an executive order directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, to create stronger workplace rules for keeping workers safe from COVID-19.

The order will also require OSHA to step up its enforcement plans if those rules are violated.

Employers can play a big role in helping to curb the transmission of COVID-19, said David Michaels, a professor at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and the former head of OSHA during the Obama administration.

He said workplaces can be risky.

“That’s the place to stop the exposures from occurring, because people have to go to work,” Michaels said.

Stronger enforcement won’t mean inspectors are going to start flooding offices and worksites across the country, he said. But more enforcement could help send a message.

“Saying, ‘Look, if we inspect and we find that you weren’t protecting your workers, we could fine you tens of thousands of dollars,'” Michaels said. “And that changes the behavior of many employers.”

OSHA has already issued COVID-19 safety recommendations, and some states have their own rules.

“Many employers operate in many different states,” said Rebecca Reindel, safety and health director at the AFL-CIO. “This would be one set of requirements they would follow anywhere.”

Under the order, OSHA has to come up with its revised guidance within two weeks.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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