COVID-19 and health care workers: Walsh reiterates that permanent rule likely before year’s end

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication

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Photo: Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee

Washington — Echoing comments made by OSHA administrator Doug Parker during a hearing three weeks earlier, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said a permanent standard on COVID-19 for the health care industry may be published sometime in the fall.

Walsh testified before the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on June 15 – a day after appearing before the House Education and Labor Committee.

During the June 15 hearing, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the subcommittee, asked Walsh for an update on the forthcoming permanent standard. OSHA withdrew the non-recordkeeping parts of its emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 focused on health care workers Dec. 27 – around six months after it first went into effect.

“I believe it will be done in the next three to six months.” Walsh said.

“Three to six months from now?” Murray asked.

“Yes. It’s the rulemaking process,” Walsh responded. “I would love to speed it up, but, unfortunately, it’s the process that’s in place that we have to work under.”

Walsh also noted that OSHA is continuing its work on a standard on infectious diseases. According to the Department of Labor’s latest regulatory agenda, issued Dec. 10, that standard would be aimed at the health care industry and other “high-risk environments.”

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is expected to publish an updated regulatory agenda in the near future.

Mining deaths

During both hearings, Walsh highlighted a recent increase in mine worker fatalities. The labor secretary told Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM) separately that his department had a call with “some of the major mining companies in America” to talk about sharing best practices on safety.

According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, 37 mining fatalities were recorded last year – up from 29 in 2020. As of June 15, the agency had reported 12 miner deaths this year.

“Something I did when I was the mayor of Boston when we had high shootings is we brought all the stakeholders to the table. We did the same thing with the mining industry,” Walsh told Capito. “We need to make sure we stay on top of it.”


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House Republicans call on DOL to suspend work on COVID-19 vaccination and testing mandate

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication

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Photo: U.S. Department of Labor Flickr

Washington — Concerned about the effects a potential OSHA mandate for COVID-19 vaccination and testing in the workplace would have on certain businesses, the Republicans on the House Education and Labor Committee are calling on Labor Secretary Marty Walsh to suspend work on that effort.

On Sept. 9, President Joe Biden announced that OSHA is developing an emergency temporary standard that will require employers with at least 100 workers to “ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week.”

In a letter sent to Walsh and dated Sept. 29, ranking member Rep. Virginia Foxx (NC) and her 22 Republican colleagues on the committee express particular concern about the Department of Labor’s plan not to solicit public input until after the possible ETS goes into effect “despite the plethora of logistical, legal and financial concerns we are hearing from businesses of all sizes in our congressional districts daily.”

On its website, law firm Fisher Phillips notes that the potential ETS could remain in place for up to six months and then be replaced by a permanent rule if OSHA deems one necessary. That rule would have to go through notice-and-comment procedures.

The lawmakers claim that, throughout the history of the agency, OSHA has used its authority to issue ETSs “sparingly.” The agency’s ETS on COVID-19 for health care workers, in effect since June, is its first since 1983.

“A majority of ETSs have been either stayed or invalidated by federal courts,” the lawmakers write.


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