April 22, 2020

As Workplace Infections Rise, Kaine Introduces Bill To Protect Workers From COVID-19

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine joined Senator Tammy Baldwin to introduce legislation to protect U.S. workers from COVID-19 in response to disturbing, 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 COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s critical that we combat this pandemic by taking immediate action to make our frontline workers safer. Ensuring that every workplace in America implements comprehensive plans to control infectious disease exposure is necessary to protect the health and safety of the country,” Kaine said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 9,000 U.S. health care workers have been infected with COVID-19. Outbreaks have been reported at a wide range of workplaces across the country, including one meat processing plant where more than 500 workers were infected with the virus. 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 Democrats to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard, the Department has made no effort to establish enforceable safety standards to protect workers from COVID-19.

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, the COVID-19 Workers First Protection Act (S. 3584), 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.

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), Workforce Protections Subcommittee Chairwoman Alma Adams (NC-12), and Congresswoman Donna Shalala (FL-27) and 27 colleagues introduced a companion bill in the House today, as well.

Last week, Kaine called for any future coronavirus response legislation to include a requirement that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to guarantee protections for all essential workers.

To read a fact sheet for the COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act of 2020, click here. 

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