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Advocacy group offers OSHA 8-point agenda for emergency temporary standard on COVID-19

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Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Washington — The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health is calling on OSHA to enact an emergency temporary standard related to COVID-19 – an action the advocacy group says won’t require OSHA officials to reinvent the wheel.

Several OSHA State Plan states already have issued ETSs to help protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering federal OSHA a valuable framework, National COSH Co-Executive Director Jessica Martinez said during a Feb. 3 virtual conference call exploring the organization’s national agenda for worker safety and health.

“We want to make sure that we can model these. We don’t have to start from nothing,” Martinez said. “There’s already a model to be able to take from. But the goal, again, is to be able to ensure that every employer has a prevention plan to deal with infectious disease across the board.”

National COSH developed the agenda alongside more than 100 labor and community-based worker organizations. Strengthening and enforcing worker safety laws and regulations amid the pandemic tops the list, which also includes a call to establish worker-centered protocols to track, prevent and protect against COVID-19.

“Making sure that there’s stronger recordkeeping in this standard is going to be essential,” National COSH Co-Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb said during the call, “and having that presumption that if somebody becomes sick that it is related to work so that you can keep track of that.”

Other recommended steps for the Biden administration not directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic included in the agenda:

  • Listen to workers
  • Further diversity, equity and inclusion in workplaces
  • Prevent chemical catastrophes and harmful exposures

Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI), vice chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, joined the call to lend support to the agenda. Other speakers included Marcos Vasquez, a construction worker and member of the Fe y Justicia Worker Center, as well as Daisy Cruz, a former construction worker representing the advocacy group Workers’ Dignity. Vasquez and Cruz offered testimony detailing hardships and lack of worker protections during the pandemic.

Levin called the feedback from Vasquez and Cruz “most valuable” as he pledged to influence change among colleagues in Congress to advance policy to enhance worker safety.

 

“Every worker in this country, when they get up in the morning or at night and go to work – in a hospital, cleaning an office, in a mine, in a factory, wherever they go to work – should be able to go to work and know that they’ll come home safely that night, and while they’re at work, they won’t contract a disease,” Levin said.

President Joe Biden on Jan. 21 signed an Executive Order directing OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration to consider issuing ETSs related to COVID-19.

Martinez said National COSH views Biden’s initial actions to bolster worker safety protections as “steps to the right direction.” She further voiced hope in incoming OSHA leadership.

“These are folks that have a history of working with worker advocates on the ground, and we’re hopeful that they are able to take that into their new positions and sort of help move things along,” Martinez said.

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