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OSHA’s new program places higher emphasis on COVID-19 workplace risks

  • 25 March, 2021

Due to an executive order by President Joe Biden the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will roll out a new national program that places a heavier emphasis on protecting workers who are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

This executive order was issued on January 21st as the President remarked that “Ensuring the health and safety of workers is a national priority and a moral imperative.”

In a memo recently released, OSHA explains that the new program has two priorities. The first is to adopt a higher level of scrutiny in their inspection and enforcement on “companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus.” OSHA also wants the new program to give reassurance that workers, who have made complaints about COVID-19 risks in the workplace, will be protected against retaliation.

OSHA’s principal deputy assistant secretary, Jim Frederick, released a statement explaining the objectives of the program stating “This program seeks to substantially reduce or eliminate coronavirus exposure for workers in companies where risks are high and to protect workers who raise concerns that their employer is failing to protect them from the risks of exposure.”

OSHA plans to accomplish these objectives not only by conducting new inspections but by also returning to work sites previously inspected in 2020 in order to confirm that these once-visited sites have amended their workplace conditions to no longer be hazardous for their workers.

Additionally, OSHA plans to have a higher presence in their oversight of industries they label as “high hazard.” Some of these “high hazard” industries include hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers and other health care providers in contact with COVID-19 patients. Other industries like meatpacking plants and correctional facilities that are known to have had a significant amount of COVID-19 related complaints will also be brought under increased inspections by OSHA.

During inspections OSHA will distribute anti-retaliation information to workers. Since a major focus of the new program is to assure workers are protected against retaliation OSHA will create outreach opportunities for whistleblowers and promptly submit any retaliation allegation they receive to the US Department of Labor’s whistleblower protection program.

The duration of this new program is scheduled to run for one year, however, OSHA also said they are willing to amend or even end the program before the year is over if the pandemic recedes to a point they deem acceptable.

Frederick comments about the remaining ramifications of the pandemic and the need for this new program by stating, “We know there is light at the end of the tunnel. But until we are past this pandemic, workers deserve a Labor Department that is looking out for their health.”

Source: Law360

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