OSHA soon will announce an extension of the agency’s National Emphasis Program for Covid-19, an enforcement initative initially adopted last year, while continuing to work on permanent standards for both its pandemic-related and general infectious disease regulations, agency chief Doug Parker said.
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s difficulties in issuing a permanent health-care rule are due to “a lot of uncertainty in the rulemaking process,” such as alternative perspectives received during the comment period or possible hearing requests from Congress, Parker said at a conference Wednesday.
Average health-related rules usually take about seven years to complete, but the agency’s been attempting to finalize this particular standard in just nine months, he said.
“We think it’s important to have these rules in place certainly before the fall and the potential of increased cases over the winter,” Parker said, adding that this is the agency’s “immediate focus.”
OSHA also will focus on a permanent infectious disease standard once the agency establishes its Covid-19 rule, Parker said. This rule would concentrate on the health-care industry, but the scope may widen to include other high-risk industries, he added.
“People would probably be surprised to know that we don’t have a comprehensive infectious disease standard” to protect against tuberculosis, measles, and other general airborne-exclusive diseases, Parker said. “It’s overdue.”
Heat, Fall Prevention
Other topics discussed during the safety conference included rulemaking on heat-related hazards, fall protection, and compliance assistance.
OSHA issued a national emphasis program on indoor and outdoor heat-related hazards in April, but the program only expands on the agency’s existing heat-related illness campaign and doesn’t impose new legal requirements on employers.
“For the first time, through the national emphasis program, we are actively conducting heat inspections” in the agricultural, construction, manufacturing, and warehouse industries, Parker said, adding that the agency has done around 230 inspections so far this year.
Regarding OSHA’s fall prevention standard, Parker said he couldn’t think of a rule with so many deaths and so much non-compliance. He admitted, though, that the agency could do better communicating to contractors about the range of compliance options.
“That’s a start,” Parker said. “Reminding people that these solutions are out there and that they are affordable.”