Biden directs OSHA to set COVID-19 workplace safety rules

Photo (c) Luis Alvarez - Getty Images

The order aims to keep employees from contracting COVID-19 at work

President Biden has signed an executive order directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue guidance to employers on keeping workers from getting COVID-19 on the job.

Biden has signed a flurry of executive orders during his first days in office, most aimed at fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on Americans. 

Thursday’s order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety gives OSHA two weeks to provide employers with workplace safety guidance to help keep workers safe during the pandemic. OSHA will also have to determine whether any emergency requirements in the workplace -- such as mandates on masks, physical distancing, and ventilation standards -- are needed. 

In the order, Biden wrote that “ensuring the health and safety of workers is a national priority and a moral imperative.”

“I am calling for the enforcement of more stringent worker safety standards,” Biden said. “Healthcare workers and other essential workers, many of whom are people of color and immigrants, have put their lives on the line” during the pandemic.” 

If OSHA determines that an emergency rule is needed, the regulation should be issued no later than March 15. 

Federal law requires OSHA to conclude that “employees are exposed to grave danger” by a new hazard in order to justify establishing an emergency standard. While Trump was in office, OSHA provided only voluntary guidance to employers on how to equip workplaces in the COVID-19 era. 

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