Top OSHA official asserts agency is not lax on COVID-19

Loren Sweatt is principal deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. Since President Trump never nominated an assistant secretary for occupational safety and health (the agency’s lead position), Sweatt is the highest-ranking OSHA official. She released this statement:

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the dedicated men and women at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have been hard at work addressing COVID-19 complaints and questions.

This week, the agency issued the 112 citation relating to COVID-19. Collectively, those citations amount to more than $1,603,544 in fines.

As we have repeatedly said, the agency has the regulatory tools to address the pandemic and ensure safe workplaces.

OSHA’s safety and health experts identified the need to provide the best, most accurate information to employers to protect workers from COVID-19. In fact, the agency began this effort in January, and has since sought to regularly provide employers and workers with the most up-to-date workplace safety information.

In March, OSHA packaged crucial information into a single Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, outlining how to prevent COVID-19 spread in the workplace and actions to keep workers safe. Even as President Donald Trump issued an executive order to use the Defense Production Act to continue supplying our nation with beef, pork and poultry products, the Trump administration ensured that processors and producers continued to follow the important CDC and OSHA guidelines for worker and workplace safety.

Over the months that followed, OSHA issued specific industry guidance documents addressing COVID-19, expanded access to respirators, provided key alerts to protect essential workers such as those in health care and meatpacking, and authored detailed memoranda transparently outlining COVID-19 enforcement priorities. The agency’s commitment to providing up-to-date information continues to this day.

OSHA’s commitment to providing this much-needed information has been questioned by some, and that’s wrong. OSHA was sued to force it to issue an emergency temporary standard.

The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed that OSHA’s approach was acceptable, stating that “OSHA reasonably determined” that a new emergency standard “is not necessary at this time.”

OSHA’s steady rate of citations should be no surprise to anyone familiar with the legal framework within which OSHA operates. That framework allows for workplace hazards to be quickly identified and addressed, while the thorough inspections that follow are designed to be resolved within the six-month statute of limitations set by Congress.

Other matters set by Congress are the maximum civil monetary penalties for OSHA citations. OSHA has not hesitated to issue the maximum fine for a citation when warranted.

The threat of citation has a deterrent effect. Thus, OSHA has issued citations where they are legally supported, and the public can expect more citations in the weeks ahead.

Even so, OSHA will continue to focus on ensuring employers have the best information available to keep workers safe by preventing hazards before they result in citations. The agency’s top priority has been – and remains – protecting workers by removing hazards from the workplace.

OSHA’s data demonstrate that since Feb. 1, OSHA inspections have helped to ensure that more than 634,000 workers are protected from COVID-19.

I encourage employers to access the up-to-date workplace safety information and compliance assistance tools made readily available at OSHA.gov.

I similarly encourage workers to visit the same website in order to alert OSHA to workplace safety concerns. By coming together to keep workplaces safe, we can continue to succeed in defeating this virus.