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OSHA Update: Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety


On January 21, President Biden signed an executive order to protect worker health and safety. The order is specifically focused on COVID-19’s spread in America’s workplaces.

The executive order instructed officials at OSHA to “issue, within two weeks, revised guidance to employers on workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.” It also instructed OSHA to “consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19, including with respect to masks in the workplace, are necessary, and if such standards are determined to be necessary, issue them by March 15, 2021.”

Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace

Revised guidance was published on January 29. Much of the guidance provided was issued by the CDC and OSHA shortly after the pandemic was declared, however several of the 16 points that comprise OSHA’s vision of a written COVID-19 safety program are new.

For example, OSHA recommends offering eligible employees the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost. This is consistent with OSHA requiring employers to purchase most personal protective equipment (PPE) for their employees’ use. OSHA may require employers to pay for vaccines when the emergency temporary standard is issued by March 15.

The revised guidance also instructs employers to require masks and distancing for employees who receive the COVID-19 vaccination. Because it is still unknown if the vaccine prevents person-to-person transmission of COVID-19, OSHA requires employers to mandate the universal use of masks and social distancing for all employees, vaccinated or not.

Lastly, the revised guidance requires employers to implement and communicate policies protecting employees from retaliation for expressing concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Furthermore, it recommends employers consider a confidential hotline for employees to communicate concerns.

OSHA Leadership

As of this update, the Biden Administration has not nominated an Assistant Secretary of Labor – OSHA (head of the agency). The Administration recently appointed Jim Frederick to the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor – OSHA. Frederick replaces Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor Loren Sweatt who was appointed by the Trump Administration. Frederick will head the agency until a candidate is nominated by the Biden Administration and approved by the Senate.

Prior to his OSHA appointment, Frederick spent his career as an official with the Steelworkers Union and as an industrial hygienist with a union training organization.

What’s Next?

While Frederick leads the agency as interim OSHA head, operational policies are expected to change. Many regulatory rollbacks implemented by the Trump Administration could be reversed. This includes reinstatement of employer shaming, reinstatement of policies that limit post-injury drug testing and safety incentive programs, and changes in the way OSHA citations and penalties are negotiated or reduced.

We advise that employers take a serious look at their COVID-19 safety programs and protocols, and make sure the points contained in the guidance document are included. Horton Safety Consultants has assisted many employers with developing and implementing effective COVID-19 safety programs. Please contact us if you are interested in a professional review of your program.

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.