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OSHA's Uphill Road to Protecting Workers from COVID-19

Less than two days after it was issued, OSHA's Vax-or-Test Emergency Temporary Standard was blocked by a Federal Appeals Court. This is only the first battle of a long war.  Many fear that although the standard stands on firm legal grounds, it still faces an uphill battle which could end up undermining the federal government's ability to regulate workplace safety and health. "That’s because the petitioners in BST Holdings raise legal arguments that, until recently, were considered quite radical, but that are catnip to the conservative Republicans who currently dominate the federal judiciary and especially the Supreme Court," according to 

Cutting Off Their Own Noses 

OSHA's recently issued Vax-or-Test Emergency standard would arguably help businesses -- especially those who want to lure customers into safer stores, and those who think vaccine mandates are a great idea, but fear the political blowback.  They're happy that OSHA is taking the heat for them. Even the Chamber of Commerce has had a surprisingly moderate reaction to the OSHA standard. But some business associations -- like the National Retail Federation -- are teaming up with right-wing anti-labor ideologues to use bogus arguments to fight the standard in court. Unfortunately some conservative judges are listening.  Tim Noah outlines the sordid situation for The New Republic.

Stats show workers hit hard by COVID

While furloughs and the economic slowdown caused by COVID led to a fall in reported workplace injuries, there was a massive rise in work-related illnesses, official government statistics show. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) newly released ‘Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses 2020’ shows private industry employers reported a 5.8 per cent decrease in the number of non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2020, compared with 2019. There were 2.7 million injuries and illnesses in 2020 compared to 2.8 million in 2019.

By contrast, the number of workplace illnesses in 2020 quadrupled to 544,600 cases, up from 127,200 cases in 2019. BLS notes: “This increase was driven by a nearly 4,000 per cent increase in employer reported respiratory illness cases in 2020 at 428,700, up from 10,800 in 2019.” Under the US reporting rules, COVID is listed as a respiratory illness.

While the rate of injury cases decreased in 2020, from 2.6 cases per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers to 2.2 cases in 2020, the rate of illness cases increased from 12.4 cases per 10,000 FTE workers to 55.9 cases. The increase in the illness rate was driven by the rise in the respiratory illness rate, which rose from 1.1 cases per 10,000 workers to 44.0 cases. There were 1,176,340 non-fatal injuries and illnesses that caused a private industry worker to miss at least one day of work in 2020, 32.4 per cent higher than in 2019. Of these cases, 33.2 per cent (390,020 cases) were categorised as other diseases due to viruses not elsewhere classified, which includes reported Covid-19-pandemic related illnesses.

However, according to Confined Space, they don't know how many people have actually been infected with and affected by COVID because no one is keeping track. Three international experts on workplace health, Peter Smith at the University of Toronto, Andrew Curran at the University of Manchester and Letitia Davis at the Harvard School of Public Health discuss the Lessons from COVID-19 for the next pandemic: We need better data on workplace transmission. Read more: US Department of Labor BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, 2020, 3 November 2021. Confined Space.

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