OSHA to Issue Revised COVID-19 Workplace Safety Guidelines Per Executive Order

According to a Jan. 21 executive order signed by President Joe Biden, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must reissue worker safety guidelines, including the possible adoption of emergency temporary standards and the identification of varying term risks posed to vulnerable workers. The order sets a two-week deadline for the reissuance of guidelines and a March 15 deadline for the adoption of emergency temporary standards.

The order states that as a matter of policy, “[e]nsuring the health and safety of workers is a national priority and a moral imperative. Healthcare workers and other essential workers, many of whom are people of color and immigrants, have put their lives on the line during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.” 

President Biden’s decree also directs OSHA to review enforcement efforts and launch a national program aimed at aiding large groups of at-risk workers and preventing workplace retaliation against them. In addition, the agency must roll out a “multilingual outreach campaign” to inform workers and their representatives of the legal rights they hold.  

According to a Jan. 22 Fierce Healthcare article by Robert King, the order comes amid pleas from National Nurses United asking for the implementation of safety standards to optimize healthcare worker personal protective equipment (PPE) and staffing levels. The union’s request follows reports that some facilities have required nurses to improperly reuse single-use PPE, citing short supplies, the article explained.

Multiple other unions, including meatpacking workers, have complained of OSHA’s inaction under the previous administration. Private plaintiffs have also sued employers like Amazon for violating state-level regulations at its fulfillment centers resulting in worker injuries and fatalities.