U.S. Continues To Lag In COVID-19 Workplace Safety, Former OSHA Official Says

A plant in Waterloo, Iowa, is one of a number of Tyson Foods facilities that experienced serious break outs of the coronavirus among employees last year.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

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Charlie Neibergall/AP

A plant in Waterloo, Iowa, is one of numerous Tyson Foods facilities that experienced extreme break outs of the coronavirus among workers in 2015.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

” What keeps me up during the night is that 9 months after the beginning of the pandemic, that there are still no specific requirements, that as a country, every organization that has employees has to carry out to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said Berkowitz, a former chief of personnel and senior policy consultant at OSHA under President Obama. Shes currently the worker health and safety program director for the National Employment Law Project.

In an interview with NPRs Morning Edition, Berkowitz said she thinks OSHA ought to have done safety 10,000 to 20,000 evaluations considering that March and instead has done only a couple of hundred. “OSHA has been AWOL,” she said.

Interview Highlights

Below are highlights of the interview, edited for length and clarity.

Oh, this administration completely took its eye off the ball and entirely failed to protect workers. The secretary of labor under President Trump, Eugene Scalia, chose there would be no requirements and just let companies do what they desire to do willingly. A few of the plants put in these flimsy plastic barriers between employees where theres like 500 workers in a big space working shoulder to take on that even the CDC stated to them does not protect workers unless you have social distancing six feet apart. And I believe what you saw, which is truly sensational, is you saw the administration been available in to secure an industry so that they wouldnt need to safeguard workers. I imply, time and time again, CDC weakened its guidance when the meat industry asked to so they might keep earning a profit. It spread out like wildfire.

As COVID-19 deaths and diseases mount, necessary workers– who are rejected the opportunity to work from home– are having a hard time to remain safe. And its far from clear if the federal government is doing enough to secure them, according to a former leading federal office safety official.

Last spring, we heard a lot about viral break outs in workplaces like meatpacking plants, and the Trump administration in fact stepped in back then. Those staff members became important employees and companies said they would really set up preventative measures and restrictions. Did they do that on any scale or did we take our eye off the ball?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration authorities, Deborah Berkowitz, states the Trump administration has actually ignored COVID-19 safety at meatpacking plants and many other offices.

In remark to NPR, OSHA Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt says Berkowitz pulled “separated alleged occurrences out of context.” The firm, Sweatt stated, has “released almost 300 COVID citations and kept hundreds of countless employees safe on the task.”

What does OSHA need to do right now to make work environments safe from the spread?

Workers actually require to have employers follow the standard CDC assistance of social distancing, masks, alert when there are cases. And maybe this pandemic will trigger us to rethink this capability of workers to secure themselves, which right now they truly dont have.

OSHA has actually been AWOL. I assisted run that company for six years. And at the start of the pandemic in the middle of March, when I got calls from meatpacking employees, healthcare employees, I stated, just call OSHA. And OSHA really told workers theres nothing we can do. Were not inspecting. Usually, OSHA, during the last 9 months, would have done 10,000, perhaps 20,000 inspections. They did a couple hundred.

Seems like youre waiting on this brand-new presidential administration for any modifications to take location and therefore a brand-new OSHA. Time is of the essence. What do workers need right now?

When a vaccine gets here for vital employees, what other difficulties will they need to conquer?

Nina Kravinsky and Jan Johnson produced and edited the audio version of this story. Avie Schneider produced for the Web.

Due to the fact that you had a president that downplayed the infection, that minimized the severity of the infection, that made up how you treat this infection, theres substantial wonder about now in the federal government and what theyre advising. And so I do think that one of the very first things the Biden-Harris team has to do is to release a substantial project to build the publics trust, but also to deal with the states to and to establish much better systems to provide this vaccine to vital employees.

Those employees became necessary workers and companies said they would really institute precautions and restrictions. Some of the plants put in these flimsy plastic barriers between employees where theres like 500 employees in a huge room working shoulder to carry that even the CDC said to them does not secure employees unless you have social distancing six feet apart. And I think what you saw, which is truly stunning, is you saw the administration come in to safeguard a market so that they wouldnt have to secure workers. And at the start of the pandemic in the middle of March, when I got calls from meatpacking employees, health care workers, I stated, simply call OSHA. And OSHA in fact told employees theres absolutely nothing we can do.