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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s National Emphasis Program for worker safety in the COVID-19 pandemic will be extended past its upcoming July expiration date, Doug Parker, OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor, told attendees Wednesday during a Q&A at the American Society of Safety Professionals’ annual conference in Chicago.
“We're about to announce its extension,” he said during the session, which also aired online. “We're currently seeing hospitalizations on the increase in the country from COVID-19. And so we don't believe that this is the time to let up on our activity.”
Mr. Parker, who served as chief of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health at the start of the pandemic and was sworn in to head federal OSHA in late 2021, said the pandemic will continue to be an “immediate focus” for the federal agency.
OSHA hopes to introduce a permanent COVID-19 standard for health care by the end of 2022, he said. From there, the agency plans to continue work on an infectious disease standard, a process that began under the Obama Administration and stalled.
“It will be focused on health care (yet) the scope is undetermined. It may include other high-risk industries,” he said. “If we learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it's the importance of being prepared. And I think that if we had had a rule in place, we would have had better outcomes in health care.”
Other objectives for OSHA include creation of a standard to prevent heat illnesses, he said.
“We have an average of almost 40 recorded reportable fatalities a year in related occupational heat,” he said. “We know that that’s a significant undercount, just because of the limits of our surveillance system, the fact that these are often classified as other types of fatalities or they’re just not recognized.”
Better recordkeeping is also a focus, he said.
“We think that it’s critically important that in this age of data and information that we improve what I think is a very overall, pretty weak system of data collection on injuries and illnesses in this country,” he said.