Lawmakers Propose More Workplace Virus Protections

Democrats and labor groups say companies should be forced to establish formal workplace coronavirus protections.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, has introduced a measure that would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to order all companies to implement comprehensive plans to protect workers who continue in their jobs during the pandemic. The new emergency standard would have to be issued within seven days after any legislation is signed.

As some states start to consider reopening closed businesses, Democrats say regulations are needed, broadening to all businesses a proposal that initially was aimed solely at health-care settings. Steps currently taken by businesses vary widely.

OSHA has provided guidance outlining steps that companies should take to shield workers during an outbreak, but the steps are not mandatory. The agency has received thousands of employee complaints in recent months, including some alleging that employers were ignoring recommendations to disinfect work areas and to keep workers at safe distances.

“Without explicit standards from OSHA…businesses are left with little direction or incentive to create a safe workplace and instill confidence in their workforce,” wrote several dozen senators in a letter last week.

The new standards would require companies to develop protocols for each element of an entire program, including identifying the hazard and its entry point and devising control measures as part of a broader plan.

President Trump has outlined guidelines for reopening the economy on a state-by-state basis that include providing safety guidelines to employers instead of mandates. Republican lawmakers have pointed to guidelines already released by OSHA, and business and conservative groups are wary of new regulations.

“It puts more burden on employers who right now can barely afford to reopen, especially small businesses,” said David McIntosh, who leads the Club for Growth, a conservative group. “The larger businesses already have plans and know how to protect their employees. They don’t need an extra OSHA form to fill out.”

The so-called emergency temporary standard being pushed by Democrats would give regulators the power to issue citations or fines for violations.
Existing law requires employers to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards and requires employees to follow the rules. But worker advocates say that the standard is hard for inspectors to enforce. Also, the agency has been avoiding in-person inspections in favor of telling employers to do their own investigations.

Source: Wall Street Journal