March 9, 2021

Biden Tells OSHA to Issue New Covid-19 Guidance to Employers

The study found that a majority of the Covid-19 cases linked to meatpacking plants had likely originated in the plants and then spread through surrounding communities.

Despite the problems identified by the study, the Trump administration did not include meatpacking plants in the category of workplaces that OSHA should regularly inspect. Only a small fraction of the roughly $4 million in coronavirus-related penalties that the agency proposed under Mr. Trump targeted the industry. Fines for any given plant were generally below $30,000.

The Labor Department under Mr. Trump said it had assessed the maximum fines allowed under the law. But former OSHA officials have said that the agency can impose bigger fines by citing facilities for multiple violations, which could raise proposed penalties to over $100,000.

Even when it did inspect meatpacking plants and propose fines, OSHA rarely required these employers to place workers six feet apart, the distance recommended by its own guidance.

During a court case involving a plant in Pennsylvania whose workers complained last year that they were in imminent danger because of the risk of infection, OSHA wrote in a letter on Jan. 12 that it was OK with spacing at the plant, even though some workers were spaced less than six feet apart. Separately, union officials at two other plants where OSHA issued citations said workers continued to stand close to one another after the citations.

Debbie Berkowitz, a senior OSHA official during the Obama administration who is now at the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, said she expected the Biden administration to issue a rule requiring meatpacking facilities to space workers six feet apart and mandating other safety measures, such as providing high-quality masks and improving ventilation and sanitation at their facilities.

“OSHA had been sidelined under Trump,” said Ms. Berkowitz. “This is a signal they’re going to play a significant role in mitigating the spread of Covid-19,” she added, alluding to Mr. Biden’s executive order.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/21/business/economy/biden-osha-coronavirus.html

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