In his first week in office, President Joseph R. Biden issued and signed a slew of new Executive Orders (EOs). On January 21st, 2021, the president issued an EO entitled “Protecting Worker Health and Safety.” The purpose of this EO is to provide enforcement of more stringent worker safety standards by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Contents of the Executive Order

The EO specifically orders OSHA to complete the following:

  • Issue, by February 4th, 2021, revised OSHA guidance on COVID-19 to employers addressing workplace safety during the pandemic.
  • Consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19, including the requirement to use masks in the workplace, are necessary. If OSHA determines that they need such standards, the agency has to issue them by March 15th, 2021.
  • Review the agency’s enforcement efforts related to COVID-19. OSHA should then identify any short-, medium-, and long-term changes that better protects workers and ensures enforcement equity.
  • Launch a national program to focus COVID-19-related enforcement efforts on violations that put the largest number of workers at risk. Additionally, OSHA should identify any enforcement efforts that are contrary to anti-retaliation principles.
  • Coordinate with states that have State OSHA Plans to help ensure that covered workers receive adequate protection from COVID-19. Furthermore, the agency will determine if the plans are consistent with any revised OSHA guidance or emergency temporary standards.
  • Team with the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) public affairs office with OSHA’s regional offices to create/implement a multilingual outreach campaign. The campaign will inform workers and their representatives of their legal rights. Accordingly, this includes “engagement with labor unions, community organizations, and industries. . . .” The campaign will also place a special emphasis on communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

Emergency Temporary Standards

Although the EO does not require the issuance of emergency temporary standards (mentioned above), OSHA may decide to do so. According to OSHA Standards Development, if issued, the emergency temporary standards would take effect immediately. After taking effect, the standards would last no longer than six months, unless adopted as permanent. Even under current standards, however, OSHA has been fining employers for coronavirus violations. In order to offer information on how it is enforcing regulations during the pandemic, OSHA has released an FAQ. Employers should examine that document to make sure they are in compliance with the current standards and existing OSHA guidance on COVID-19.