During the Trump administration, OSHA passed a policy to largely limit Covid-related inspections to a small number of high-risk industries such as healthcare and emergency aid. In this high-risk group, meat packaging – which studies have shown was a major source of virus transmission – was not included.
Some labor groups praised OSHA under President Donald J. Trump for enforcing health care safety regulations, including proposed fines of over $ 1 million for violations in dozens of health facilities and nursing homes. However, critics accused the agency of largely failing to punish meat processors with fines for lax safety standards, such as insufficient distance from workers.
Mr Walsh said the risks for most non-healthcare workers had decreased as cases decreased and vaccination rates increased. He also noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines last month, telling vaccinated individuals that they generally do not need to wear a mask indoors, played a role in OSHA’s decision on one dispense with the broader Covid-19 standard.
“OSHA has adjusted the rule to reflect the reality on the ground, the success of the vaccine effort, as well as the latest guidance from the CDC and the changing nature of the pandemic,” Walsh said on the call.
David Michaels, an OSHA chief during the Obama administration, said the CDC guidelines made it difficult to implement a broader OSHA rule. “In order to justify an emergency standard, OSHA must demonstrate that there is great danger,” said Dr. Michaels. “To do this, the CDC should have clarified its recommendation and said that there is a great danger for many workers.”
Without such clarification, said Dr. Michaels, now a professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health, would have employer groups likely challenged any new OSHA rule in court, arguing that the CDC guidelines suggest that a rule is unnecessary.
Dr. Michaels said the new standard was an overdue move, but that it was disappointing that no Covid-specific standard had been issued for industries such as meat packaging, corrections and retail. “If exposure is not controlled in these workplaces, they will continue to be major drivers of infection,” he said.