December 9, 2021 / Mark Ames

A Year of Service and Strength in Government Relations

Amazingly, another year has nearly come and gone, leaving in its wake memories that we will cherish. Let’s review what we’ve accomplished together in 2021, working with policymakers to advance public policies that protect workers and their communities.

When AIHA surveyed its members on which government relations activities they’d like to engage in, comments to agencies on proposed regulations ranked high. During 2021, we submitted comments on numerous rulemakings, including some that were historic:

  • comments to OSHA on its emergency temporary standard (ETS) to protect unvaccinated employees of large employers from the risk of contracting COVID-19 (PDF)
  • comments to OSHA on its ETS to protect healthcare and healthcare support service workers from occupational exposure to COVID-19 (PDF)
  • comments to NIOSH on its request for information (RFI) on interventions to prevent work-related stress and support health worker mental health (PDF)
  • comments to the U.S. Department of Labor on its proposed Climate Action Plan (PDF)
  • comments on NIOSH’s Approaches to Developing Occupational Exposure Limits or Bands for Engineered Nanomaterials: User Guide and Technical Report (PDF)
  • comments to NIOSH on its RFI on the needs and challenges of PPE use for underserved user populations (PDF and PDF)
  • comments on the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s proposal to develop and adopt a standard to reduce or eliminate employee injuries, illnesses, and fatalities due to exposure to excessive heat at indoor and outdoor places of work (PDF)

We are currently drafting comments on OSHA’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings.

We also corresponded and interacted with legislators:

  • submitted written testimony to congressional leadership in support of OSHA and NIOSH funding (PDF)
  • sent a letter from the Friends of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to congressional leadership in support of funding for NIEHS and their Worker Training Program (PDF)
  • attended and participated in Maryland Occupational Safety and Health public hearings on their forthcoming workplace heat stress standard
  • urged CDC and U.S. DOL to clarify its interim public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people (press release and PDF)
  • expressed support for U.S. H.R.1195, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (PDF)

In addition, we met with U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh; Doug Parker, shortly after he was sworn in as the new leader of OSHA; OSHA Acting Assistant Secretary Jim Frederick; and Deputy Assistant Secretary Mandy Edens to discuss the COVID-19 ETS, climate change adaptation, heat stress, vector-borne illnesses, help in recruiting Certified Safety and Health Officials, encouraging DOL to provide more funds to OSHA staff to attend professional development conferences such as AIHce EXP, and other issues.

We continued our strong relationship with OSHA as a member of the agency’s Alliance Ambassador Program, helping plan and participate in several outreach events, including Safe + Sound Week, the teen workplace health and safety campaign, the 2021 National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, and more.

AIHA issued an action alert urging members of Congress to prioritize workplace health and safety as they worked on infrastructure legislation throughout the year. Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act (H.R.5376), which would provide $707 million to OSHA for enforcement, standards development, whistleblower investigations, compliance assistance, funding for state plans, and related activities. The bill would also provide $133 million to MSHA for carrying out enforcement, standard-setting, technical assistance, and related activities.

Earlier this year, the House also passed an appropriations bill for fiscal year 2022 that is aligned with AIHA’s recommendations and would provide $691.7 million to OSHA (a $100 million increase over the current funding level) and $360.3 million to NIOSH (a $15 million increase that includes $32 million for NIOSH’s Education and Research Centers).

The House report for the fiscal year 2022 bill encourages OSHA to take action on hearing loss prevention by lowering the current permissible exposure limit to an 85 dBA time-weighted average using a 3 dB exchange rate, which is the same recommendation that AIHA and several other organizations have been making for years. It would also align OSHA with the current exposure limits used by the Department of Defense. The explanatory statement (PDF) to the Senate’s version of the appropriations bill also encourages OSHA to issue standards on workplace violence prevention, heat stress, and infectious diseases. While the House report and the Senate's explanatory statement do not carry the force of law, they are powerful tools for sending messages from congressional leadership to government agencies. This language thus serves as an important metric of progress for the OEHS community.

In mid-April, the House also passed the AIHA-supported Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R.1195), which would call on OSHA to issue a workplace violence prevention standard.

Throughout the year, AIHA has trained hundreds of volunteers on effective advocacy practices, bringing in legislative and agency staff to speak with our Government Relations Committee members, providing an insiders’ view of the legislative process and tips for writing effective comments to government agencies. Subject matter experts throughout the country have also joined AIHA Government Relations staff for impactful meetings with state and federal legislators and their staff on issues such as mold, indoor environmental quality, COVID-19, and more.

Our volunteers have continued their commitment to public service, stepping forward to serve on Virginia’s Regulatory Advisory Panel, which is helping craft the states’ new heat stress standard. Working with subject matter experts within our membership and other associations, we succeeded this year in calling on CDC and OSHA to clarify that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted via the air. OSHA recently noted in its COVID-19 ETS that “airborne transmission [of SARS-CoV-2] may occur in indoor spaces without adequate ventilation where small respiratory particles are able to remain suspended in the air and accumulate.”

In May, in partnership with NIEHS’s Worker Training Program, AIHA issued new guidance to protect volunteers from COVID-19 during response to and recovery from natural disasters (press release and PDF).

From the beginning of 2021, when we issued a letter to the White House on the reopening of America’s schools and businesses to our present work on OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS and heat stress standard, we have remained committed to serving you and working on the issues you care about the most, always open and ready to learn. We recently completed a survey on the types of public policy issues you care about and the types of government relations actions you might be interested in taking. You can read about the results of that survey on the SynergistNOW blog.

Throughout the year, AIHA members have stepped forward, volunteering their expertise in service of protecting workers and their communities throughout the U.S. Together, we have forged deeper bonds with policymakers and each other, improving public policies with the power of applied OEHS scientific knowledge.

The future is ever bright, and tomorrow is a wellspring of hope. We have shown what dedicated persistence and focus can accomplish. As we close the year and pause in peaceful reflection, we are thankful for the days that have passed, the present we have created, and the future we are building. There is much to look forward to in the days to come. Our journey continues, joyful in fellowship, abundant in hope, and confident in our shared purpose.

Wishing you and yours a very happy year-end and new year.

Mark Ames

Mark Ames is AIHA’s director of government relations.


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