In recent weeks, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has taken several steps to set the stage for a COVID-19 emergency temporary standard that would require employers to implement safe work practices, such as mandatory training and face masks, to protect workers. OSHA reportedly informed multiple business groups that it had decided to issue a standard but needed more time.
President Biden previously directed OSHA to issue a standard by March 15, if the agency decided it was necessary. That date came and went with no word from OSHA. When asked about the standard on March 15, the President’s Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, replied, “OSHA has been working diligently, but we, of course, believe they should have time to get it right and time to ensure it’s right, and so we’re waiting for them to make a conclusion.” She emphasized that the President’s “objective is actually to protect workers and members of the workforce.”
OSHA has taken several actions foreshadowing the adoption of an emergency temporary standard. On March 12, OSHA released a National Emphasis Program (NEP), targeting industries deemed high risk for COVID-19, such as healthcare, grocers, restaurants, and animal processing plants. The NEP outlines procedures to identify and reduce or eliminate exposure to COVID-19 through inspections, outreach, and compliance assistance.
On February 25, the Department of Labor, Office of the Inspector General issued a report finding that OSHA had not done enough to protect workers from COVID-19 exposure. The report also recommends that OSHA “analyze and determine whether establishing aninfectious disease-specific ETS is necessary to help control the spread of COVID-19 as employees return to worksites.”
On January 29, OSHA issued stronger workplace safety guidance to help employers identify risks of COVID-19 exposure and implement appropriate control measures.
Although OSHA missed President Biden’s March 15 deadline, most experts believe an emergency temporary standard is imminent. We will continue to monitor developments and provide necessary updates.