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COVID19: When OSHA Fails To Respond To Workplace Exposures

Five decades since the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, top labor unions say the agency responsible for implementing this law has and continues to fail to protect American employees from workplace exposures to Covid-19.

Date:   2/24/2021 2:29:54 PM   ( 22 mon ) ... viewed 302 times

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) released a report in October 2020 showing that thousands of complaints lodged by workers voicing concerns about risks of workplace exposures to Covid-19 had gone uninvestigated. Even the few companies that OSHA found at fault simply got a slap on the wrist, the report further states.

Investigation of Few Complaints

Through October 1, 2020, OSHA commenced investigations into just 198 of the over 9,000 Covid-19-related complaints it received from workers. Out of all those complaints, over 2,000 originated from health care employees and over 1,000 from retail workers, the AFL-CIO stated. The union asserts that there is a direct link between how OSHA is handling complaints and rising Covid-19 infections among American workers.

A worker who has contracted COVID-19 due to a work-related activity will often hire a workers’ compensation attorney to help him or her pursue a workers’ compensation claim. The claim must, however, meet the following criteria:

  • There was an elevated or higher probability of contracting the virus because of his or her occupation

  • The worker would not have contracted the virus if not for his or her job

  • The worker can pinpoint a specific source or episode related to his or her occupation that led to the exposure to the virus

Lack of Data Collection

Data collection is instrumental in generating scientific results that influence policymaking. OSHA has abandoned its duty of collecting data on cases of COVID-19 among employees. This limited or lack of data collection likely has and continues to endanger the lives of employees.

By exempting most employers from reporting cases of COVID-19 at work, OSHA abandoned one of its main responsibilities under congressional law. That is the responsibility to demand employers to report specific forms of work-related injuries and illness. The Occupational Safety and Health Act gives OSHA the mandate to collect data on injuries and illnesses that take place in the workplace, excluding respiratory illnesses.

Although the act doesn’t recognize the flu and common cold as work-related illnesses, OSHA clarified in 2020 that COVID-19 isn’t in that category. An employee who contracts COVID-19 at work and is unable to work for a substantial amount of time due to complications related to the infection can pursue a workers’ compensation claim with the help of a workers’ compensation lawyer.

What Can OSHA Do?

OSHA is responsible for ensuring a high level of safety standards in workplaces. These standards are usually comprehensive statements that can take up to ten years to create and execute. OSHA can, however, announce an “emergency temporary standard” in a public health crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic. The agency has not issued this emergence standard thus far.

OSHA could require employers to assess their commercial properties for risks of COVID-19 exposure. It could also require them to report COVID-19-related hospitalizations and fatalities among workers within 24 hours.


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