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FOX 13 Investigates: OSHA issues new pandemic guidelines to protect workers

Posted at 4:58 PM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 19:50:49-05

SALT LAKE CITY — After months of conducting few inspections and issuing fewer citations, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Friday announced new guidelines to protect workers from COVID-19.

The guidelines could become enforceable rules in the coming months. Until then, they further explain to employers what’s expected of them.

“I’m happy to see that come out of this administration,” said Jeff Worthington, president of the Utah AFL-CIO.

Worthington said some of his union members have been pressured to return to work when they should be at home.

“Some of our larger corporations were punitive to the employees that I represent,” Worthington said, “making them go home without pay; not reimbursing them for the time off.”

President Joe Biden issued an executive order last week instructing OSHA to create the guidelines. They say employers should:

  • Assess the COVID-19 hazards in their workplaces.
  • Find control measures.
  • Adopt policies that encourage potentially-infected workers to stay home.
  • Communicate pandemic policies to workers who don’t speak English.
  • Protect workers from retaliation if they report hazards.

“The message from this administration is that protecting your workers is mandatory,” said Ann Rosenthal, a senior advisor to OSHA, said during a news conference Friday.

Peg Seminario, said while the guidelines are “basically voluntary recommendations” for employers, they are a step toward creating enforceable rules.

“Hopefully,” Seminario said, “what we will have very soon is a standard that lays out and takes these recommended actions and makes them mandatory.”

FOX 13's Nate Carlisle explains stronger workplace COVID guidelines

If in the next few months OSHA turns the guidelines into rules, that could impact workers in states like Utah, which operates its own worker safety office with federal oversight.

Last year, a spokesman for the Utah office, Eric Olsen, said one reason it had issued few citations was due to a lack of direction from Washington.

“Rules and regulations on the state and federal level regarding COVID,” Olsen told FOX 13, “there aren’t any yet in place for us to follow.”

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