The President of the Government, Joe Biden, signed an Executive Order on Thursday afternoon to reinforce safety and health at work. It is critical for the Government to ensure that American workers do not contract COVID-19 while carrying out their activity and reduce the risk of it occurring.
The Order addresses the Administration responsible for it, OSHA, to issue updated guidelines on COVID to protect workers and calls on it and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to consider the use of masks as necessary. Additionally, the president is taking steps to cover workers not normally covered by OSHA or MSHA, such as transportation to expand health coverage.
The president specifies in his mandate that the guidelines have to be based on science and there will be publicity about them because businesses need to know how to maintain or change safety measures as vaccinations progress. For small businesses that need access to PPE and other types of products to help slow the spread of the virus, priority will be given to using funds from the current COVID relief package.
The SBA and the Department of Labor will help distribute OSHA guidelines and support businesses in enforcing them.
The AFL-CIO welcomes this initiative, which represents a first step towards tightening measures that have been largely neglected during the pandemic. “Desperately necessary,” according to the president of this union confederation Richard Trumka in a statement.
“TOFL-CIO and our affiliates have been calling for workplace standards since March and this order is key as the first step in a comprehensive plan to keep us safe on the job, ”added Trumka.
During the pandemic and under the Donald Trump Administration, OSHA has maintained very vague specific labor standards that did not lead to radical changes. Furthermore, with old legislation and very few resources for inspections, the Administration has been slow when it comes to reviewing minimum compliance and sanctioning companies in which there have been strong sources of infection.
The meat companies in which thousands of Latinos work have been some of the places that have become hotbeds for COVID infections. According to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, at least 239 workers at these packaging centers have died since the start of the pandemic. However, according to an investigation by this center and the USA Today newspaper, companies have reported less than half of the cases of deaths.
Additionally, the fines that have been imposed on corporations like JBS have been very low. This company was imposed fines of 13,500 after 1,300 workers in Sioux Falls tested positive for a disease that claimed the lives of four of them.