On November 4, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that instructs large employers to take steps to keep their workplaces safe from COVID-19, either through their Will require vaccination or weekly tests and masks not vaccination.
This effort has been blocked, at least temporarily, and is now being considered by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. For the time being, OSHA has suspended implementation and enforcement of the requirements pending future developments in litigation.
Most Americans know very little about how OSHA works. Yet that hasn’t stopped critics — including politicians and judges, who should know better — from accusing OSHA of enforcing a “vaccine mandate,” calling it an unconstitutional power grab and allowing images of agents to sneak into workplaces, making unacceptable demands. has not been stopped from forming and kicking out companies. Businesses will be fined heavily if their employees are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
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We know how OSHA works—we run it. We can assure concerned employers that there is no “OSHA Vaccine Mandate”. OSHA is charged with assuring that employers provide safe workplaces for their employees, and that is exactly what it is doing.
The past 21 months have shown that the workplace plays a central role in driving the pandemic. When exposed at work, workers infect other workers and bring the virus back to their homes and communities. Just as employers must ensure that asbestos is not present in the workplace, ETS requires employers to protect their employees from the risk of another deadly hazard: potentially infectious workers.
Contrary to the label its critics are giving it, the OSHA standard does not require anyone to be vaccinated. Large and medium-sized employers (this includes only those with 100 or more workers) have the option of requiring unvaccinated workers to wear masks at work and test negative for COVID-19 at least weekly. They can also ask those workers to do their work from home. Or the employer—not OSHA—may insist on getting their employees vaccinated.
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The rule will primarily be self-promoting. Most employers are not protesting, they are adapting. They want to keep their employees safe, and they want a level playing field where everyone follows the same rules and no one is harmed for the safety of their employees.
Some enforcement, of course, will be necessary. Having run OSHA, a smaller agency with a budget of about one-sixteenth that of the Environmental Protection Agency, we can predict how it will respond.
It will be workers working out of fear of getting sick who are most likely to contact OSHA if they believe their workplaces are unsafe. Most of OSHA’s response will be by phone; OSHA will ask employers to submit their documentation of worker vaccinations and tests. In a limited number of cases, the agency will investigate on the spot, but OSHA doesn’t practice “gotcha” inspections—with its small workforce, it would take 160 years to inspect every workplace in the country just once.
Rumors have spread that OSHA has fined hundreds of thousands of dollars when it finds a helpless employer who hasn’t followed the standards’ requirements. This is also a myth. The average fine for serious violations is $5,473, small cash for any major employer.
Before blocking the rule, OSHA gave employers a month to learn which of their employees were still unaffiliated and began requiring them to wear masks. The test requirement will come into force a month after that. For the time being, these requirements have been suspended, but when the rule was first issued, some employers were concerned that meeting the deadline would be difficult. In the past, OSHA has historically taken the position that if an employer shows they made an effort in good faith to comply, yet circumstances made it impossible, it would not issue a citation.
Even without ETS, if an employer isn’t sure who has been vaccinated and wants to be on the safe side, it can do what many companies, especially those in retail, do right now: give all employees a mask. wear is required. This sends a message to the employees as well as the customers that this business cares about their safety. After all, there have been thousands of COVID-19 outbreaks in retail establishments, so many people want to avoid shopping in stores where they may have been exposed. The presence of the Omicron version makes the OSHA standard even more important.
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We know from experience that most employers will comply with OSHA requirements without OSHA oversight, just as most people follow the law without looking over the shoulder of a police officer. And we know from experience with some of the largest companies in the country that when employers require vaccinations, workers are highly compliant. Despite fears that 25% or 50% of workers would be out of work when employers such as United Airlines actually began to require vaccinations, only a very small percentage of workers refused.
On the other hand, lakhs of workers have left the workforce and are reluctant to return for fear of contracting or spreading COVID-19 at work. OSHA ETS is an important step in reviving the economy by making workplaces safer, preventing virus transmission and making it safe to return to work.