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Labor Chief Walsh Puts Hold on OSHA Virus Rule for More Analysis

April 6, 2021, 11:32 PM

Release of OSHA’s Covid-19 emergency temporary standard is on hold at the request of Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.

“Secretary Walsh reviewed the materials, and determined that they should be updated to reflect the latest scientific analysis of the state of the disease,” a Labor Department spokesperson told Bloomberg Law on Tuesday. The review is of the standard’s analysis of the disease, not the standard’s regulatory text.

It’s been more than three weeks since the March 15 deadline President Joe Biden’s executive order had set for DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to decide whether a standard was needed; the order directed the agency to issue a standard if its answer was that Covid-19 posed a grave danger to workers.

Walsh “ordered a rapid update based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis and the latest information regarding the state of vaccinations and the variants,” the spokesperson said Tuesday, when asked about the regulation’s delay, adding, “He believes this is the best way to proceed.”

The standard is expected to require employers to develop and implement infection control and prevention plans that follow guidance from the CDC. It also could address other issues, such as paying workers if they’re forced to quarantine and ensuring workers could return to jobs after their absence.

Critics of the rulemaking say the rising number of vaccinated workers make the regulation unnecessary.

OSHA has been largely silent on the rulemaking’s progress. OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Joseph “Chip” Hughes said March 23 at an American Bar Association conference that drafts of the standard were being presented to other Cabinet departments outside of the Labor Department for review.

When asked at the conference when or if a standard would be turned over to the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review—a typical step before a regulation can be issued—Hughes said, “We hope to move it to the next level very soon.”

Hughes left open the possibility that OSHA would issue two emergency standards—one for health-care employers and one for other industries.

—With assistance from Ben Penn

To contact the reporters on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at BRolfsen@bloomberglaw.com; Courtney Rozen in Washington at crozen@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com

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