“We are calling on OSHA and the Trump administration to address the most urgent threat facing working people today: the Covid-19 pandemic,” said, Rep. DeLauro, chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees funding for the Department of Labor, OSHA, and the Department of Health and Human Services. “To date, OSHA has not released enforceable emergency standards to protect workers from the virus; instead, it has offered only non-binding guidance. As states begin to seek to re-open the economy, OSHA must uphold its mission, making sure employers are taking the necessary steps to keep their employees safe from this pandemic.”
To date, OSHA has not released enforceable emergency standards—instead offering only guidance, nor has it developed any strategy for safety training or workplace inspections at a scale the crisis requires.
“In OSHA’s own words, a guidance is ‘advisory in nature’ and ‘not a standard or a regulation’ and that means that an employer who wants to ignore it can ignore it without consequence,” said BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Jason Walsh. “OSHA is putting out guidance that is non-enforceable by design, while workers are putting their lives on the line.”
A recent media investigation uncovered more than 3,000 Covid-19 related employee complaints filed with OSHA since the beginning of the year. The complaints come from a wide variety of sectors and raise critical issues such as lack of access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and even hand sanitizer or soap, employees being forced to work in close contact with other workers—including those who appear sick— and other concerns.
“We are grateful for those American workers risking their lives fighting to keep our nation healthy, fed, and to ensure we all have access to the vital resources we need. We owe it to them to fight for their safety,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “This pandemic has shown the glaring holes in the laws and regulations that exist to protect workers in this country, and frankly, this administration has done nothing to actually protect workers.”
“Health care, food service, and so many other essential workers who are caring for Americans during this Covid pandemic are working without protection and getting sick. Over 52,000 Americans have already died from Covid-19, many are our colleagues, our relatives, our friends and our neighbors,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. “We must force OSHA to do its job and adopt an enforceable emergency standard.”
The leaders called on Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to immediately enact and enforce an emergency standard to protect frontline workers, who are disproportionately people of color, and to use existing authority to existing agency standards for personal protective equipment, sanitation, and hazardous substances, as well as their legally required obligation to provide a safe workplace. In addition, they said they support two measures in Congress introduced by Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA)—H.R. 6139, the Covid-19 Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2020 and H.R. 6559, the Covid-19 Every Worker Protection Act of 2020—that would force the agency to address concerns around Covid-19.
“Our union is pushing for a massive increase in appropriate PPE for all workers, more rapid and reliable coronavirus testing, and a system for reporting and tracking workplace infections, so that all workers can stay safe on the job,” said USW International Secretary-Treasurer John Shinn. “Most importantly, decisions concerning workplace safety during this pandemic must be based on sound science and worker involvement.”
“This crisis has underscored the value of a safe and healthy workforce.” said Michaels, who was the longest-serving administrator in OSHA history. “We see the vital importance of the previously invisible low wage workers who grow our crops, process our meat, and ensure food gets to our table. In this crisis, we now recognize our these are essential, indispensable workers—we have to ensure they are safe, not just for their sake, but for ours.”