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Safety group calls on OSHA to create emergency COVID standard


The National Safety Council is calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to “immediately” create an emergency standard for workers facing COVID-19 exposure, the Itasca, Illinois-based organization said in a statement Thursday.

Prompting the call is that states are reopening after massive shutdowns, which is “problematic given 20 states are reporting surges in cases,” NSC said in its policy position statement. 

“Employers must know the specific measures they are required to take to protect their workers and the public,” Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of NSC, said in the statement.

Ms. Martin noted OSHA has taken life-saving actions in other crisis situations. “We expect it will do so again, especially knowing that safety is vital to not only workers’ health but also to our economic recovery as a nation,” she said.

In the absence of a specific COVID-19 regulation, OSHA has stated its authority to issue citations to workplaces through the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. As of May 15, the agency had not issued any citations citing the general duty clause at workplaces, according to the NSC.

“This is despite worker deaths from COVID-19 and virus transmission hotspots being reported throughout the country, particularly in the meatpacking industry and long-term care facilities,” the NSC said.

Specifically, NSC is calling for a standard that would address such requirements as handwashing, social distancing, face coverings, and symptom screening protocols.

On Wednesday, OSHA issued guidance on face coverings, surgical masks and respirators in the workplace, outlining the differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks and respirators.

The guidance reminds employers not to use surgical masks or cloth face coverings when respirators are needed. In addition, the guidance notes the need for social distancing measures, even when workers are wearing cloth face coverings, and recommends following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on washing face coverings.