The AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) the largest organization of unions in the United States, filed a lawsuit with OSHA to create an emergency workplace safety rule based on the coronavirus pandemic.
According to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, "As the economy reopens and more workers return to work, person-to-person contact in the workplace will increase and health experts predict that the already shocking number of infections and deaths among workers will get worse.”
A three-judge panel said in an unsigned order that OSHA has the authority to decide whether to issue new rules during the pandemic. Since the crisis began, the agency has offered nonbinding, industry-specific guidance rather than an enforceable rule to protect workers from COVID-19. In April and again in May, OSHA issued guidance for contractors for recording COVID-19 cases on the jobsite.
Construction groups applauded the decision, saying that it allows for companies to take targeted, more focused approaches to COVID outbreaks, and not lay blanket provisions across an entire industry.
"OSHA’s resources are better deployed by developing timely and situational-specific guidance documents, which can be adjusted and adapted as the agency and public health authorities better understand the pandemic," reads a joint statement from Associated Builders and Contractors Vice President of Health, Safety, Environment and Workforce Development Greg Sizemore and National Association of Home Builders CEO Jerry Howard.
Nationally, OSHA site visits have declined 16% since the pre-coronavirus levels while the agency focus is primarily targeted on the healthcare industry, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis of agency data.
In the first week of March, prior to the shutdown, OSHA federal inspectors conducted about 395 construction inspections. During the week of April 26th, in the heart of the pandemic, only about 65 were performed.
On April 13th, OSHA issued a memorandum saying that it was prioritizing its resources to workplaces where there’s a high potential of exposure to COVID, such as nursing homes and hospitals. Construction sites weren’t considered high-priority locations.