By A. Scott Hecker, Benjamin D. Briggs, Adam R. YoungPatrick Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth SynopsisOn May 25, 2022, Douglas Parker, Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, testified before the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor’s Workforce Protections Subcommittee regarding his vision for the Agency and the status of its operations.

Assistant Secretary Parker’s written statement, submitted to the Workforce Protections Subcommittee ahead of his live testimony, asserted that “COVID-19 has been the occupational health issue of our time,” and noted a number of irons OSHA has in the COVID fire, including “working to finalize a permanent COVID-19 standard to ensure health care workers are protected as long as COVID-19 is a threat.”  Even absent a permanent standard, Assistant Secretary Parker trumpeted OSHA’s “1,826 COVID-19 related inspections in health care facilities, with an additional 701 inspections conducted by State Plans,” and cited OSHA’s March launch of “a COVID-19 enforcement initiative focusing on evaluating and ensuring the readiness of hospitals and skilled nursing care facilities to protect workers in the event of surges in COVID-19 patients.”  Employers should stay wary, as OSHA continues to pursue COVID-related enforcement.  See our previous blog, COVID-19 “Endemic” is Not Over: OSHA is Opening New COVID-19 Programmed Inspections, for more on OSHA’s efforts.

During his hearing testimony, Assistant Secretary Parker identified developing an infectious disease standard for high-risk workplaces as a priority, suggesting that had one been in place prior to the pandemic, “OSHA would have been in a better position to address COVID.”  Assistant Secretary Parker, formerly the head of Cal/OSHA, highlighted that State’s regulation addressing Aerosol Transmissible Diseases as resource that helped California implement its pandemic response.  Acknowledging the standard is not perfect, he nonetheless argued that “it certainly put California in a better position to be able to enforce basic infectious disease controls because of the existence of the standard.”  While the Obama Administration proposed an infectious disease standard in 2010, the rulemaking lay fallow throughout President Trump’s term as Commander in Chief.

Speaking of fallow rules, employers may be happy to hear that OSHA is not planning to propose a permanent COVID-19 vaccinate or test regulation similar to the emergency temporary standard stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 13, 2022.

Beyond COVID and other infectious diseases, OSHA anticipates rules concerning, among other issues: workplace violence in health care, heat hazards, and recordkeeping.  We blogged about Vice President Kamala Harris’s April announcement of OSHA’s National Emphasis Program concerning indoor and outdoor heat illness.  OSHA’s rulemakings trundle on in various stages, and some may not see the light of day for years, if ever, but employers should stay aware of where these regulatory processes stand to remain cognizant of potentially-shifting obligations.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the author, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.