The National Safety Council (NSC) is using all means at its disposal – legislative, administrative, judicial, and public support – to pursue implementation of a temporary OSHA standard to protect workers from COVID-19.
As employers send more workers back into facilities, they are doing so without a standard to protect workers from COVID-19. This becomes even more problematic given 20 states are reporting surges in cases. In response, the NSC is calling on OSHA to immediately exercise its emergency authority and issue a temporary emergency standard. The standard would protect workers during the pandemic and reopening process. The NSC made its position clear regarding a temporary OSHA standard in a new policy position statement released June 12.
“Employers must know the specific measures they are required to take to protect their workers and the public,” said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of NSC. “NSC has been an ardent, strong supporter of OSHA since the agency’s founding, and we have watched it take life-saving actions in the midst of other crisis situations. We expect it will do so again, especially knowing that safety is vital to not only workers’ health, but also to our economic recovery as a nation.”
OSHA Relying on General Duty Clause
In the absence of a regulation, OSHA has the authority to issue citations to workplaces through the general duty clause. According to the general duty clause, each employer must provide employment and a workplace “which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are like to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
However, as of May 15, 2020, the agency has not issued any citations citing the general duty clause at workplaces. This is despite worker deaths from COVID-19 and virus transmission hotspots located throughout the country. In particular, the NSC notes, at meatpacking plants and long-term care facilities.
A federal OSHA standard could address the following issues:
- Accessibility to handwashing in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.
- Physical distancing requirements following CDC guidelines.
- Facial coverings that may include personal protective equipment (PPE) or cloth facial coverings. Choices should be based on the work environment and risk assessment.
- Utilization of the hierarchy of controls to include engineering and administrative controls and PPE use.
- Workplace COVID-19 symptom screening protocols.
- Workplace response plan development.