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Labor Dept. watchdog recommends mandatory COVID-19 workplace safety guidelines

Labor Dept. watchdog recommends mandatory COVID-19 workplace safety guidelines
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The Labor Department’s internal watchdog released a report Tuesday recommending that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) put out mandatory coronavirus safety rules for employers.

While President BidenJoe BidenBiden overruled Blinken, top officials on initial refugee cap decision: report Suicide bombing hits Afghan security forces Jim Jordan, Val Demings get in shouting match about police during hearing MORE has already issued a similar call, the report by the Labor Department’s inspector general (IG) adds extra weight to the issue.

OSHA has already put out guidance regarding ways employers can improve safety for their workers, but those recommendations are not enforceable, unlike an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), which is mandatory. 

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“Guidance in and of itself cannot operate in lieu of an ETS as an enforcement tool,” the IG report said.

“Having an ETS could be of importance during the pandemic as enforceable criteria,” the report continued, noting that it is challenging to cite employers for safety risks without them and that OSHA inspectors “may not be hampered by a lengthy process” when verifying violations.

The recommendation appears to have broader buy-in within the department. Interviews with OSHA inspectors cited in the review found that they “mostly agreed that having a standard, such as an ETS, would be useful during an inspection” to identify safety risks. 

Biden has been a vocal advocate of implementing more stringent safety standards in workplaces. The president in January issued an executive order directing OSHA to decide by the middle of March if an ETS was necessary.

However, Republicans have broadly opposed mandatory safety rules. 

The Trump administration decided that a mandatory standard was unnecessary since OSHA had other tools at its disposal, including requiring employers to provide personal protective equipment. However, the IG report found that the former administration’s relaxed approach did not improve protections and that its reduction in inspections — including suspension of on-site inspections — fueled a spike in complaints. 

“Given the increase in complaints, OSHA’s reduction in total inspections, and its significant reduction in in onsite inspections, there is an increased risk that OSHA has not been providing the level of protection that workers need at various job sites,” the report said. “While remote inspections might help mitigate potential transmission of Covid-19, a reduction of on-site inspections could result in more work-site accidents, injuries, deaths or employee illnesses.”