COVID-19, Regulatory Developments, Special Topics in Safety Management

President Biden Issues Federal Employee Mask Mandate and Selects Acting OSHA Leaders

On January 20, President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order requiring mask wearing in federal buildings and on public lands and requiring all federal employees and contractors to wear masks while on duty. The order also instructs federal personnel to maintain social distancing and comply with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

White House

Andrea Izzotti /

The president also named a former labor union official and a federal health official to leadership roles at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The mask-wearing Executive Order also directs the CDC and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to engage with business, labor union, and community leaders, as well as state and local, tribal, and territorial officials, to promote public compliance with mask wearing and other public health measures identified by the CDC and to address any obstacles to public compliance. The order also creates a Safer Federal Workforce Task Force to provide guidance on issues that include air filtration, COVID-19 testing methods, and infection control measures.

The National Safety Council (NSC) applauded Biden’s Executive Order. The NSC has encouraged state officials and business leaders to establish clear and consistent guidelines for wearing face coverings during the pandemic.

A separate Executive Order created a Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response position in the White House. A memorandum from White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain ordered a freeze on any new or pending federal regulations not yet effective. The memo also encouraged agency heads to consider postponing rules’ effective dates for 60 days. Biden named Jim Frederick deputy assistant secretary and acting head of OSHA. On January 7, Biden nominated Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to be secretary of Labor. Walsh remains Boston’s mayor. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee has not yet scheduled a confirmation hearing for Walsh. The Department of Labor (DOL) currently lists the assistant secretary of Labor for occupational safety and health position as vacant.

Frederick was assistant director of the United Steelworkers’ (USW) health, safety, and environment department and its principal investigator. He most recently served as a senior consultant for ORC HSE Strategies, which the NSC acquired in November.

“We look forward to working closely with Deputy Assistant Secretary Frederick and Secretary-designee of Labor Marty Walsh to save lives and prevent injuries, from the workplace to anyplace,” the NSC said in a statement.

“There is no stronger advocate for worker safety in this country than Jim Frederick,” USW International President Tom Conway said in a statement.

“He brings to OSHA not just a deep commitment to safer workplaces for all Americans, but the expertise and experience to get the job done right,” Conway said.

Thomas Joseph “Chip” Hughes, Jr., was named deputy assistant secretary at the DOL for Emergency & Pandemic Response. Hughes was director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ worker education and training program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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