Among the executive orders President Biden signed in his first three days of office, one calls for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue guidance on how to protect workers from COVID-19.
The executive order, “Protecting Workers from COVID-19 Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act,” directs OSHA to issue revised, science-based guidance to employers on workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance must be issued within two weeks of the date of the executive order, which was signed Jan. 21.
“Ensuring the health and safety of workers is a national priority and a moral imperative,” Biden wrote in the order. “The Federal Government must take swift action to reduce the risk that workers may contract COVID-19 in the workplace.”
The order also calls for OSHA to consider whether emergency temporary standards on COVID-19 are necessary, including the wearing of masks in the workplace. If emergency standards are determined to be necessary, they are to be issued by March 15.
Per the order, a national program would be launched to focus on OSHA enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 violations. The Trump administration relied on the "general duty" clause to enforce and cite COVID violations.
“OSHA has taken a lot of heat for not coming out proactively on COVID-19 and kicking it to the CDC to a certain extent. You can expect a lot of that to change,” said Trent Cotney, CEO of Cotney Construction Law.
OSHA did release safety tips in April on how to keep construction workers safe from coronavirus exposure as well as a social distancing alert in May. However, the order states OSHA must review enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 and “identify any short-, medium-, and long-term changes that could be made to better protect workers and ensure equity in enforcement.”