On April 6, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a pair of stakeholder meetings on the agency’s heat illness prevention activities and whistleblower protections in healthcare (87 Federal Register (FR) 19997, 19997).
Both meetings will be held virtually via Zoom. The stakeholder meeting on OSHA’s initiatives to protect workers from heat-related hazards is on May 3 from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET, and the healthcare worker whistleblower stakeholder meeting is on May 18, 2022, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET.
Heat illness prevention initiatives
During the meeting, OSHA will present an overview of its ongoing activities to protect workers from heat-related hazards, including its compliance assistance and enforcement efforts, as well as its heat illness prevention rulemaking.
OSHA also is seeking comments regarding heat hazards from interested parties, including academia, business and industry, community-based organizations, labor unions, nongovernmental organizations, state and local governments, tribal governments, tribal/indigenous organizations, and individuals, including affected workers.
OSHA launched a series of heat hazard initiatives last fall following a White House announcement of interagency efforts to address climate hazards, including excessive heat. OSHA’s heat-related efforts include an enforcement initiative, a rulemaking for the first federal heat illness prevention standard, and a commitment to develop a heat stress National Emphasis Program (NEP).
OSHA is looking for suggestions on how it can improve its whistleblower program, particularly the antiretaliation protections for healthcare workers. Specific questions for the meeting and public comment include:
- How can OSHA deliver better whistleblower customer service?
- What kind of assistance can OSHA provide to help explain the agency’s whistleblower laws to employees and employers?
- What can OSHA do to ensure that healthcare workers are protected from
retaliation for raising concerns related to COVID-19?
OSHA investigates and enforces whistleblower protections in dozens of federal laws, as well as those in the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The agency is responsible for enforcing the whistleblower protections of the Affordable Care Act.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA has focused both its enforcement and its regulatory efforts on the healthcare industry. In March, the agency launched a COVID-19 health and safety enforcement initiative in healthcare facilities. The 3-month enforcement surge in high-hazard healthcare facilities lasts from March 9 to June 9.
OSHA also has a COVID-19 NEP focused on healthcare facilities, as well as nonhealthcare industries, such as correctional facilities, grocery and discount department stores, meat and poultry processing, and restaurants.
The agency also is proceeding with a rulemaking for a permanent healthcare COVID-19 standard based on its June 21, 2021, emergency temporary standard (ETS), as well as developing an infectious disease standard that would cover the healthcare worker hazards posed by other diseases in addition to COVID-19—diseases like measles, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), pandemic influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), tuberculosis (TB), and varicella disease (chickenpox, shingles).
However, an infectious disease standard likely would also apply to coroners’ offices, correctional facilities, drug treatment programs, emergency response, homeless shelters, medical examiners, medical laboratories, pathologists, and mortuaries.
The agency also has revived an Obama administration rulemaking to establish a workplace violence prevention standard for health care and social services. The agency considers workplace violence a “widespread problem” and contends that workers in healthcare and social services occupations face unique safety risks.