U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said on April 6, that OSHA’s much-anticipated Emergency Temporary Standard on COVID is now on hold.
On his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order which among other things, orders the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to consider whether an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) is necessary to address the COVID crisis. Under the order, if OSHA had determined that an ETS was necessary, they would have had only a few short weeks to promulgate it – a nearly impossible time frame, considering the extensive rulemaking requirements that would apply even to emergency standards.
As the mid-March deadline came and went, observers grew skeptical that the new rule was coming, let alone, by the deadline. OSHA issued a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to partially address some of the COVID concern, but that was viewed by some skeptics as a surrogate for the ETS that some diehards still expected. Some took the NEP as an admission from OSHA that they were unwilling, and/or unable to promulgate an ETS in the time allotted and issued the NEP as a stop-gap measure.
Those suspicions were confirmed when on April 6, 2021, Walsh placed a “hold” on the implementation of a potential COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), saying that agency needed to await more recent scientific data from CDC before acting. Walsh noted that any ETS needs to “reflect the latest scientific analysis of the state of the disease” and is delaying its implementation until such scientific review is completed.
Neither Walsh, the CDC, OSHA, or Department of Labor have given any indication as to when the study would be complete or when (or if) the ETS will be published. But with vaccination rates increasing, and case rates declining in most of the country, the end of the COVID pandemic is now in sight. It might be a safe bet that the ETS would be considered a moot issue in the next few months and should no longer be considered a certainty.