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Labor Watchdog Starts Review of OSHA Virus Guidance, Actions

April 16, 2020, 8:59 PM

The Labor Department’s internal watchdog has launched a review of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s coronavirus guidance for employers and related actions.

The review, which will extend through September 2021, was mandated in the CARES Act (Public Law 116-136), the $2.2 trillion relief bill signed into law March 27. The Office of Inspector General also will look at the pandemic-response efforts of other Labor Department agencies in addition to working with state agencies to crack down on fraud in unemployment insurance claims.

Officials from the IG’s office are expected to meet with OSHA counterparts next week to discuss the audit.

Recent Criticism

OSHA, the main federal agency that enforces workplace safety and health standards, is facing criticism from some Democratic lawmakers for not issuing temporary emergency rules to protect health-care and other essential workers from coronavirus infections.

Democrats were unsuccessful in efforts to include a rule mandate in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Public Law No: 116-127), signed into law March 18, and in the follow-up CARES Act.

Some companies and advocates for workers have criticized OSHA’s move to update guidance stipulating the types of companies that will be required to determine whether a worker’s coronavirus infection was job-related, raising the possibility of legal action. A former senior DOL attorney told Bloomberg Law the guidance could be subject to a court review to determine if the revisions should have gone through public review before taking effect.

Three Phases

The first phase of DOL Inspector General Scott Dahl’s inquiry will focus on OSHA’s interim Covid-19 guidance to employers and instructions on how inspectors should protect themselves from infection, according to an outline of the planned audit. A report could be completed in June.

The IG will then evaluate OSHA’s efforts to “protect people on the front lines” of the pandemic, particularly health-care workers and emergency responders. That review is anticipated to wrap up by the end of September.

Finally, a report due around September 2021 will look at the effectiveness of OSHA virus-related inspections, including the number and types of inspections, and alternatives to in-person inspections, such a phone discussions with employers. The IG also will look at the agency’s plans for handling future disease outbreaks.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at BRolfsen@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com; Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com

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