May 18, 2021 / Mark Ames

The Saga of OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard on COVID-19

The meeting with the White House Office of Management and Budget began at about 2 p.m. on Wednesday, May 5. Led by incoming AIHA Board member Justine Parker, Anthony Panepinto, Scott Schneider, Roxy Grossnickle, Enjoli DeGrasse, Dana Hollins, and several other subject matter experts from about a dozen AIHA volunteer groups, we had gathered to present our views on what should be included in OSHA’s forthcoming emergency temporary standard (ETS) on occupational exposure to COVID-19.

This was our latest step in a months-long journey to protect more workers from COVID-19, which began when President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order requiring the U.S. Department of Labor to issue an ETS by March 15, 2021. AIHA experts previously met with OSHA about the ETS in February, when it appeared that the Department of Labor was making progress on the standard. Since then, there have been many delays as a new Secretary of Labor was sworn in, President Biden’s nominee to lead OSHA was announced, and the White House focused intently on quickly rolling out the vaccine to as many people as possible.

As of this writing, the public has still not seen the ETS. As we wait for it to be issued, questions linger. When will the standard be issued? Will it be flexible enough to account for constantly changing worksite environments? What are the trigger mechanisms for implementing or retiring its various provisions? With increasing vaccination rates, will the ETS even be necessary?

Further complicating matters are the court challenges that are sure to come and the impacts they could have. Will a judge delay the implementation of all or part of the standard as litigation proceeds? It’s also possible that all or part of the ETS could be invalidated by a court. Amid this uncertainty, AIHA has been taking action.

Our Back to Work Safely guidance documents remain popular and have been downloaded more than 1.3 million times. We are partnering with other organizations on pandemic response issues, working with policymakers to protect workers and communities from COVID-19, and showcasing content relevant to the pandemic response effort at AIHce EXP. If you haven’t signed up for the conference already, there’s still time to register. Running from May 24 to 26, AIHce EXP 2021 is fully virtual, making access easy. The user interface has also been upgraded to provide attendees with a better experience and more options compared to the 2020 virtual conference.

The future of OSHA’s emergency temporary standard on occupational exposure to COVID-19 is uncertain, but AIHA remains a trusted resource for policymakers, the media, students, and OEHS professionals. By providing networking, cutting-edge knowledge, and opportunities for getting involved, AIHA helps OEHS professionals protect more workers and their communities.

Would you like to join AIHA’s Government Relations Committee? Send me an email to sign up and get immediate insider access to strategy, tactics, tools, news, and other resources for engaging with federal, state, and local OEHS issues affecting your community.

Mark Ames

Mark Ames is AIHA’s director of government relations.


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