OSHA issues workplace COVID rules, but they’re limited to health care
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More than a year into a deadly pandemic, federal regulators have finally released a set of safety rules to deal with COVID-19 in the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had declined to create emergency standards during the Trump administration, but President Joe Biden directed the agency to do so when he took office.
The new rules, however, are narrowly limited. Workplaces look to OSHA standards for guidance on fire extinguishers or how to dispose of dangerous chemicals — but for COVID-19, the agency hasn’t made legally binding rules, except now for health care workers.
Former OSHA head David Michaels, now a professor at George Washington University, said it’s better than no standard, but “the more infectious virus variants are spreading very rapidly, and the majority of working-age adults are not [fully] vaccinated.”
Michaels said he’d like to see the standard apply to other industries like meatpacking and farming. “If exposures aren’t controlled in these workplaces, they will continue to drive the pandemic.”
But OSHA has to move cautiously when it issues emergency rules that don’t go through the usual approval process, said Robert Moutrie, an attorney with the California Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s one thing to pass an emergency standard when the COVID rates are higher, but I think we look like we’re coming out of this,” Moutrie said.
OSHA rarely issues emergency standards, and almost every time it has the agency has been challenged in court.
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