Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Many states resist adapting worker safety rules to pandemic

Advocates for many occupations, including farms and factories, say they need stricter workplace safety rules during the pandemic to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. But the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued no new rules during the pandemic, and many states have failed to institute their own updates.

"Twenty-nine states are under OSHA jurisdiction for private sector workers. The 21 states with their own workplace safety agencies must meet or exceed OSHA’s standards, but they haven’t been given a strong federal benchmark to follow," Alex Brown reports for Stateline. "President-elect Joe Biden has said he will ask OSHA to reassess its decision not to issue emergency rules."

OSHA told Stateline that it has published recommendations for workplace safety during the pandemic, but its existing rules are good enough to keep workers safe, Brown reports.

"Four states—California, Michigan, Oregon and Virginia—have issued emergency standards and have changed their outreach and enforcement tactics to work better during the pandemic. Those rules cover things like testing, case reporting, personal protective equipment, physical distancing and ventilation," Brown reports. "Several other states are enforcing executive orders from a governor or a general duty clause that requires workplaces be 'free from recognized hazards.' But worker advocates say even those requirements don’t go far enough."

People of color, immigrants, and low-wage workers who can't work remotely have seen the highest virus transmission rates. "Employees without legal documentation, who often work in the most dangerous workplaces for Covid-19, are particularly vulnerable. Many don't want to report their employers, advocates say, for fear of repercussions based on their immigration status," Brown reports.

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