OSHA Changes Under Biden Administration
By Mike Harper | 03/09/2021
OSHA generally can expect a round of changes with the introduction of any new administration. These have varying degrees of impact to organizations. One thing they have in common, however, is that it’s beneficial to know about and plan for the changes rather than scrambling to ensure compliance at the last minute.
There are several changes that have either already taken place, or are widely anticipated to happen with the Biden Administration:
- Create an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 - There have been guidelines and clarifications issued, but a standard would codify, with some greater clarity, how employers are to deal with COVID-19 related issues. Several state specific plans have already taken action, but nothing has yet been finalized at the federal level.
- Double the number of OSHA inspectors - There are approximately 1,850 state and federal OSHA inspectors. Expect a hiring surge followed by 18 months of training. Once these new compliance officers are ready, you can expect a higher volume of inspections.
- Appointed a head of OSHA and restore advisory committees - Indications are that all appointments to political and permanent positions within the agency will be filled, including the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health position, assigned to oversee OSHA. Also included is the full staffing of all advisory committees and boards, along with commitments to meet regularly.
- Restore the original Electronic Reporting Rule - Unless prevented by a legal challenge, expect the revival of the 2017 electronic reporting rule requiring employer submission of detailed employee injury and illness information to OSHA in electronic format (using the Injury Tracking Application).
- Increase General Duty Clause citations for COVID-19 violations of CDC guidelines - Until there are formal standards in place that specifically address the current pandemic, look for OSHA to increase the number of GDC citations for employers violating the CDC guidelines.
- Finalize a permanent infectious disease standard - Given the dramatic impact this pandemic has had on the American workforce, OSHA is looking to have something in place that addresses these types of issues that is more applicable than the General Duty Clause. In theory, an infectious disease standard should provide for a framework of addressing these types of contagion issues, even if additional refinements end up being needed to address specific situations.
- Foster greater cooperation with and stricter oversight of state OSHA plans - There has been a growing divide between federal and state OSHA plans, and the rigor with which they are enforced. Look for a Biden administration OSHA to pressure the states for more aggressive enforcement and standards adoption to be more in-line with the federal agency.
- Enforce the 2016 OSHA Anti-Retaliation rule - This rule, which officially took effect in 2016, was largely not enforced through the Trump administration. This provision prohibited employers from retaliating against employees for reporting work-related injuries or illnesses. Also included discussion on applicability to workplace safety incentive programs, injury and accident reporting programs, and post-incident drug testing policies. Make yourself aware of the provisions of this rule as it’s expected to be much more rigorously enforced.
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