U.S. Still Lags In COVID-19 Workplace Safety, Former OSHA Official Says

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

Charlie Neibergall/AP

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Charlie Neibergall/AP

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

Charlie Neibergall/AP

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

Oh, this administration absolutely took its eye off the ball and completely failed to protect employees. Some of the plants put in these flimsy plastic barriers in between workers where theres like 500 employees in a huge space working shoulder to carry that even the CDC stated to them does not secure employees unless you have social distancing 6 feet apart. And I think what you saw, which is truly sensational, is you saw the administration come in to secure an industry so that they would not have to protect workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration official, Deborah Berkowitz, stated the Trump administration has actually ignored COVID-19 safety at meatpacking plants and lots of other workplaces.

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

Interview Highlights

As COVID-19 deaths and health problems install, vital employees– who are denied the possibility to work from house– are having a hard time to stay safe. And its far from clear whether the federal government is doing enough to protect them, according to a former leading federal workplace security official.

Last spring, we heard a lot about viral outbreaks in workplaces like meatpacking plants, and the Trump administration actually intervened at that time. Those workers became vital workers and companies said they would institute safety measures and restrictions. Did they do that on any scale or did we take our eye off the ball?

” What keeps me up at night is that nine months after the beginning of the pandemic, that there are still no specific requirements that as a country, every company that has staff members needs to carry out to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” stated Berkowitz, a former chief of personnel and senior policy advisor at OSHA under President Barack Obama. Shes presently the worker health and wellness program director for the National Employment Law Project.

In remark to NPR, OSHA Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt stated Berkowitz pulled “separated supposed events out of context.” The firm, Sweatt said, has actually “provided almost 300 COVID citations and kept hundreds of thousands of workers safe on the job.”

What does OSHA require to do right now to make offices safe from the spread?

Sounds like youre waiting on this new presidential administration for any changes to occur and therefore a new OSHA. But time is of the essence. What do employees need right now?

Workers really require to have companies follow the fundamental CDC guidance of social distancing, masks, notification when there are cases. And perhaps this pandemic will trigger us to rethink this ability of workers to safeguard themselves, which right now they truly do not have.

OSHA has actually been AWOL. I helped run that firm for six years. And at the start of the pandemic in the middle of March, when I got calls from meatpacking employees, health care workers, I said, “simply call OSHA”. And OSHA really told employees “theres nothing we can do. Were not checking.” Usually, OSHA, during the last nine months, would have done 10,000, perhaps 20,000 assessments. They did a couple hundred.

When a vaccine gets here for necessary workers, what other hurdles will they need to conquer?

Those workers ended up being important employees and companies said they would institute safety measures and limitations. Some of the plants put in these lightweight plastic barriers between workers where theres like 500 employees in a big space working shoulder to take on that even the CDC stated to them does not secure employees unless you have social distancing 6 feet apart. And I think what you saw, which is actually spectacular, is you saw the administration come in to safeguard a market so that they wouldnt have to protect workers. And at the beginning of the pandemic in the middle of March, when I got calls from meatpacking workers, health care employees, I said, “just call OSHA”. And OSHA really told workers “theres nothing we can do.

Since you had a president that minimized the virus, that minimized the severity of the infection, that made up how you cure this infection, theres substantial wonder about now in the federal government and what theyre recommending. And so I do think that one of the first things the Biden-Harris group has to do is to launch a big campaign to build the publics trust, but likewise to work with the states to develop better systems to provide this vaccine to essential employees.

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