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OSHA Under Biden

3 February, 2021

If you haven’t reviewed your OSHA safety guidelines in a while, now might be a good time for reacquaintance. OSHA had raised fines for noncompliance, and it’s also recommended stricter safety standards to protect workers from COVID-19. In fact, look for OSHA to all around become tougher after recent years marked by lax enforcement of safety protocol and neglect of investigating workers’ complaints of unsafe working conditions.

Just like there’s a cost of living raise for most goods and services, OSHA implements a cost of living increase in the penalties it will assess for safety violations. OSHA's maximum penalties for serious and other-than-serious violations will increase from $13,494 per violation to $13,653 per violation. The maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations will increase from $134,937 per violation to $136,532 per violation. Doing this annually avoids what happened in 2016, when having held steady 1990 rates for 26 years, the agency increased its monetary penalties by more than 80%.

Updated COVID guideance

As a result of a presidential executive order on January 21, OSHA updated its guidance on COVID. Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (osha.gov). This is designed for most workers outside of the healthcare industry and contains information for both employers and employees. The guidelines urge each employer to implement a COVID-19 prevention program and includes 15 potential instruction, for example, keeping the workplace clean, keeping workers isolated, and evaluating the workplace for hazards. These instructions are not backed up by force of law at this time, although there are proponents of putting more teeth into the guidelines. OSHA may institute “emergency temporary standards,” to enforce compliance with COVID-safe practices.

OSHA Recommendations

The guidance announced recommends several essential elements in a prevention program, including:

  • Conduct a hazard assessment.
  • Identify control measures to limit the spread of the virus.
  • Adopt policies for employee absences that don’t punish workers as a way to encourage potentially infected workers to remain home.
  • Ensure that coronavirus policies and procedures are communicated to both English and non-English speaking workers.
  • Implement protections from retaliation for workers who raise coronavirus-related concerns.

More potential powers...

In general, look for OSHA’s powers to expand in 2021. Along with disease protection, there may be changes in recordkeeping regarding accidents and more enforcement of protections for whistleblowers. One possibility is that accident records will be made public, which would allow employees, lawyers, the press, and the public access to your safety records.

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