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April 23, 2020

To Make Workplaces Safer During Coronavirus, King Cosponsors Bill to Increase Infectious Disease Safeguards

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 9,000 U.S. health care workers have been infected with COVID-19

BRUNSWICK, ME – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), joined a group of his Senate colleagues to introduce legislation to protect U.S. workers from coronavirus in response to widespread reports of unsafe workplaces leading to preventable illnesses and deaths. The COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard that establishes a legal obligation for all workplaces to implement comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plans to keep workers safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act directs OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard within 7 days that sets requirements for how workplaces must safeguard workers against the spread of the coronavirus. The legislation expands on a previous proposal by requiring OSHA to issue a standard covering all U.S. workers, including workers in health care facilities, warehouses, grocery stories, and food processing plants.

To stress the urgency of this legislation, Senator King and 34 of his colleagues sent a letter urging Senate leadership to implement workplace protections in future coronavirus legislation.

“We write to request that any future COVID-19 pandemic legislation include language that ensures proper training and protection for workers on the front lines fighting this virus, and those working to provide the essential supplies and services for all of us during these unprecedented times,” the senators wrote in their letter. “The single best way to do this is to require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring employers to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to protect their workers.  We feel strongly that employees need enforceable standards in place to be safe at work and for those they serve to be safe as well.”

“Millions of Americans are bravely going to work every day, helping in the direct response to COVID-19 and providing essential services to keep our country running.  These frontline workers are doctors, nurses, and health care staff in our hospitals, emergency responders, grocery store workers, farmworkers, meat and poultry processing plant workers, construction workers, transit workers, and many more,” the senators continued. “We urge you to take immediate action – proactively providing workers and their employers with these important protections.”

Although the CDC issued guidance to protect workers, the guidance is not binding and OSHA currently has no enforceable standard to protect workers from airborne infectious diseases, leaving the nation’s workers at an elevated risk of exposure to the coronavirus at a time when they are needed most. The Occupational Safety and Health Act gives the Department of Labor the authority to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard if employees are exposed to grave danger from new hazards. However, despite repeated calls from Congress to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard, the Department has made no effort to establish enforceable safety standards to protect workers from COVID-19.

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