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Covid-19 Workplace Safety Rule Now at White House for Review (1)

April 26, 2021, 8:44 PM; Updated: April 26, 2021, 10:53 PM

The U.S. Labor Department sent an emergency rule designed to protect workers from Covid-19 to the White House Monday, setting up final review, a DOL spokeswoman confirmed.

The administration’s plans to advance the delayed rule were first reported earlier in the day by Bloomberg Law, after U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told union leaders of the move Monday morning, according to multiple sources briefed on the matter. The regulation would impose new workplace safety requirements on businesses to prevent jobsite virus spread.

Walsh’s message, conveyed on calls to unions, follows the labor secretary’s move to halt release of the regulation until the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration could update it to reflect the latest scientific research on the state of the pandemic. His latest action moves the measure closer to public release, but the timing remains uncertain and the White House could still pull it back.

“Today, OSHA sent draft standards to the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review,” the department spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “OSHA has been working diligently on its proposal and has taken the appropriate time to work with its science-agency partners, economic agencies, and others in the U.S. government to get this proposed emergency standard right.”

More than 32.1 million Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in the U.S., along with more than 572,000 deaths, according to Bloomberg data. The contagion slowed as the nation undertook a massive inoculation campaign, administering more than 230 million shots. Nearly 96 million people are now fully vaccinated, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Transmitting the emergency temporary standard to the White House regulatory gatekeeper would traditionally be the final step for an agency to gain approval to release a rule to the public. By sending the draft Monday, the secretary is able to show progress to congressional Democrats—who’ve expressed frustration over the delay—when he testifies at a House hearing on Wednesday.

It also comes as Democrats on a separate House panel scheduled a hearing for April 30 to grill the department on why the rule was still missing.

Unions and worker safety advocates have criticized the delay, arguing that mandatory rules for employers to safeguard essential workers from the virus are still necessary as many Americans have yet to be vaccinated and new variants of Covid-19 continue to spread.

It’s not clear how long the White House review will last. Two of the sources said they were told the rule would need to undergo a minimum two-week review process.

President Joe Biden said in a Jan. 21 executive order that he wanted the DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a Covid-19 emergency rule by March 15 if the agency determined a rulemaking was necessary, but that deadline was missed. The Trump administration had refused to issue a rule, saying existing standards and laws protected workers.

Critics of the rulemaking say the rising number of vaccinated workers make an emergency regulation unnecessary. And Walsh’s order for additional review sparked speculation as to whether the White House would back away from the rule to avoid undercutting the president’s message that America is making rapid progress on vaccinations.

(Updated with DOL statement and additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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