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Feds seek to revoke Utah's occupational safety program over COVID-19

Labor Secretary
Posted at 4:12 PM, Oct 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-19 20:46:27-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Department of Labor is seeking to revoke an agreement it has with Utah's Labor Commission in response to the state's handling of a rule designed to protect health care workers from COVID-19.

The agency announced in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday that it was moving ahead to revoke an agreement that allows Utah to administer its own occupational safety program that covers most private sector workers and all government employees. The program has been in place since 1985.

The root of the issue is Utah's "continued failure to adopt a COVID-19 Healthcare ETS has resulted in the Utah State Plan being less effective than the Federal program," the agency said, adding: "additionally, Utah failed to meet any of the required regulatory timeframes with respect to adoption" of the rule, which demanded that health care workers had adequate COVID measures in place, including personal protective equipment.

Arizona and South Carolina are also facing similar threats of revocation of their state-run programs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Members of the Utah State Legislature were warned of trouble as they considered whether to refuse to comply with another Biden administration occupational safety rule that mandates businesses with over 100 employees have them be vaccinated or tested regularly for COVID-19. The state is one of 22 that administers its own occupational safety program with $1.6 million in matching dollars from the federal government.

"I think you can only tell the federal government no so many times," testified Utah Labor Commissioner Jaceson Maughan.

The governor's office said it wanted to meet with the Biden administration.

"We’re very disappointed in the U.S. Department of Labor’s assertion that Utah’s State Plan is less effective than the federal program. In a July 21, 2021 letter to Labor Secretary Walsh, the governors of Utah, Wyoming and Nebraska expressed concerns that the Healthcare ETS would place an unfair burden on the healthcare industry and noted that our states do not have regulatory authority to require employers to pay their employees sick leave," Governor Spencer Cox and Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson said in a statement.

"We reject the assertion that Utah’s State Plan is less effective than the federal plan. While we have not refused to adopt standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), we will ask once again for an opportunity to engage with the Biden administration about our legitimate concerns complying with the proposed Healthcare ETS. Despite today’s communication, we still welcome an opportunity to further explain our position and recommendations."

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, reacted with disappointment.

"Utah’s state-run OSHA program is effective, efficient, and has been recognized as a model in the nation. I am disappointed to learn of the federal government’s plan to revoke this successful program and hope to learn more in coming days," he said in a statement.