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Covid-19 Still an OSHA Priority Even as Masking Guidance Changes

March 9, 2022, 10:02 PM

Even with masking mandates being lifted in many places, OSHA continues to see Covid-19 as its primary enforcement concern.

“As an agency, we are still going to be focused on Covid-19,” Doug Parker, chief of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said Wednesday.

Parker was speaking in-person to about 200 mostly maskless attorneys attending the American Bar Association’s Occupational Safety and Health Law Committee’s midwinter meeting in Sarasota, Fla. The association required attendees to provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test.

The agency’s immediate goal is to issue a permanent health-care Covid-19 rule to replace the withdrawn emergency temporary standard, Parker said. The assistant secretary of labor didn’t offer a timetable for the rule’s enactment.

Department of Labor Solicitor Seema Nanda, at the same event, described the rulemaking effort as a “sprint.”

A notice of the rule was delivered to the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs on Tuesday.

Revising Guidance

Although the agency stopped enforcing its emergency health-care standard on Dec. 27, continued adherence to it likely will provide an employer “safe harbor” from being cited for other Covid-19 related rules, such as respiratory protection requirements, or general duty clause citations, Parker said.

To guide employers through what they should do to prevent Covid-19 infections, OSHA is revising guidance on complying with new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

‘We are trying to get our documents out as soon as possible,” said Dionne Williams, OSHA’s deputy director of enforcement, told the conference.

The challenge is that the CDC issues “very broad public heath guidance” while OSHA guidance must focus on how the CDC recommendations apply to workplaces, Williams said.

Williams said OSHA in fiscal year 2021 conducted 1,860 Covid-19 related inspections that were prompted by complaints, up from the 1,695 inspections in fiscal year 2020. Those inspections accounted for about 7.6% all of OSHA’s 24,355 inspections in 2021.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com