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Biden Orders OSHA to Issue New COVID-19 Guidance & Potential Emergency Standard

Stephanie Salmon

In the new Executive Order, “Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety,” President Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revisit its overall strategy for regulating and enforcing issues associated with workplace spread of COVID-19.

Specifically, the president calls on OSHA to bolster the agency’s enforcement and guidance by taking the following four key actions relative to COVID-19 in the workplace:

1. OSHA must have consulted by Feb. 4 with the heads of other departments and agencies and update OSHA’s COVID-19 guidance to employers on workplace safety during the pandemic based on the best available scientific knowledge about the virus.

2. OSHA is required to “consider whether an emergency temporary standard on COVID-19, including with respect to masks in the workplace, is necessary….” and, if so, to implement such a standard by no later than March 15.

3. OSHA should review the agency’s existing enforcement efforts and strategies related to COVID-19 to identify any short-, medium-, and long-term changes that should be made to better protect workers.

4. OSHA must launch a COVID-19 enforcement National Emphasis Program to focus OSHA’s enforcement resources on COVID-19 related violations and anti-retaliation protection.

A federal emergency COVID-19 standard will likely require metalcasters to, among other things, adopt a written COVID-19 response plan, train employees on COVID-19 practices, assess the risk level of employee exposure to COVID-19 in their workplace, provide PPE and face coverings, provide notification to government agencies and others when COVID-19 cases occur in the workplace, and assess the employer’s sick leave policies, number of shifts, etc., to determine if changing those policies will help combat employee exposure to COVID-19. AFS will continue to be engaged with OSHA and update our members on potential new COVID-19 guidance and rules.    

Biden Administration to Replace Government Fleet With Electric Vehicles

In an announcement made on Jan. 25, President Joe Biden vowed to start the process of phasing out the federal government’s use of gas-powered vehicles and replacing them with those that run on electricity. According to the General Services Administration, nearly 650,000 cars and trucks were in the federal government’s fleet of vehicles in 2019. The cost to replace the fleet is estimated to be nearly $20 billion.

In addition, Biden said he would close “loopholes” that allow key parts like engines, steel and glass to be manufactured abroad for vehicles considered U.S. made. The current standards require a vehicle’s parts be at least 50% from the U.S.  No time frame was provided on when the current vehicles would be replaced, and Biden’s “Buy America” executive order signed Jan. 25 does not direct the purchase of electric vehicles. AFS is encouraged by the administration’s commitment to supporting American manufacturing and looks forward to additional details on the plan to replace the government’s vehicle fleet with electric vehicles assembled in the U.S.    

OSHA Raises Penalty Amounts

In January, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced its annual increase in the maximum civil monetary penalties for violations of federal Occupational Safety and Health standards and regulations. This increase reflects the annual inflation adjustment to civil monetary penalties initiated back in 2016.

The new OSHA penalty amounts will increase by about 1.2% and are applicable to OSHA citations issued after January 15, 2021. The maximum penalty for Willful or Repeated violations is $136,532, up from $134,937, the 2020 maximum for the same kinds of violations. The maximum penalty for Failure to Abate violations is $13,653 per day after the abatement date. Finally, the maximum penalty allowed for Serious, Other-Than-Serious, and Posting Requirements violations is $13,653. States that operate their own Occupational Safety and Health plans are required to adopt maximum penalties levels that are at least as effective as federal OSHA’s.