The stakes are high. The coronavirus pandemic is continuing to rapidly spread, claiming the lives of more people every day. United States governments have responded by issuing guidance and executive orders limiting which businesses may remain open and which workers may continue working. While occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals are likely included in these documents, as they protect the health and safety of other workers, vague language has created uncertainty and a potential chilling effect among OHS professionals, who may prefer to suspend or reduce their work, rather than risk violating these orders, some of which carry the threat of steep fines or even jail time. If fewer OHS professionals are working, it may result in an increase in occupational injuries, illnesses, and deaths. It would be a tragic irony if this were to occur at a time when the nation is focused on protecting workers.
Actions by AIHA
In response to the need for greater clarity, which would help increase worker health and safety, AIHA has contacted all U.S. Federal and State governments, respectfully requesting that they immediately include the following language in updated guidance and executive orders:
“Essential critical infrastructure workers include employed and contracted specialists who anticipate, recognize, evaluate, and control hazards or conditions which may cause injury or illness to workers, the public, or their communities.”
Through the Inter-Society Forum, AIHA has also led the drafting and submission of a letter to Federal and State governments that supports this language, which was signed by the following organizations:
- American Board for Occupational Health Nurses, Inc (ABOHN)
- American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH)
- American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM)
- American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA)
- American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP)
- Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP)
- Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES)
- National Environmental Health Association (NEHA)
Additionally, AIHA has requested, and is currently collecting testimonials or statements from OHS professionals that describes what would happen if they were unable to continue working during the COVID-19 crisis because their profession was inadvertently not specifically included in executive orders and related guidance.
AIHA’s timely response is yielding success. To-date, we have received clarification from Alaska and Utah that OHS professionals are considered “essential workers” and need not apply for business exemptions. AIHA will continue working with Federal and State governments, and Congress and State legislatures as necessary, to obtain the clarification needed to ensure that OHS professionals are able to continue their work to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and otherwise protect the health and safety workers through the nation.
Clarifications received (by state)