- President Joe Biden in a Thursday executive order gave the Occupational Safety and Health Administration two weeks to issue revised guidance on workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The order also directed the agency, through the secretary of labor, to reconsider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19, “including with respect to masks in the workplace,” are needed. If such standards are deemed necessary, OSHA should issue them by March 15, the order said.
- Biden also asked that OSHA review its enforcement efforts and conduct a multilingual outreach campaign to inform workers of their rights.
It’s not clear exactly what the first guidance might entail but Biden announced in December that he would be asking OSHA to revisit its decision on emergency temporary standards, so Thursday’s executive order may come as no surprise to employers.
Specifically, Biden said in that earlier announcement that he would look for the agency to target the worst violators, increase the number of inspectors and develop strategies for addressing the most dangerous workplace hazards.
OSHA has so far declined to exercise its power to implement emergency standards — an option available to the agency under certain circumstances. Employee advocates sued last year, asking a court to require the agency to take action, but the court declined, concluding that the agency was entitled to “considerable deference.”
The agency instead, under the Trump administration, opted to address pandemic-related safety through guidances. These documents were flexible and sufficient, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents employers.