A showdown between Austin leadership and the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is headed to Texas on Monday.
Governor Greg Abbott removed all Covid-19 restrictions across the state on March 10, freeing Texas businesses to operate at 100% capacity. Dismayed public health experts and hospital leaders questioned the Governor’s executive order as cases of dangerous Covid variants increases statewide.
President Biden’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is expected to issue updated guidelines by March 15th. OSHA, part of the United States Department of Labor, was created in 1970 with the mission of ensuring safe and healthful working conditions for working people by “setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.”
Given the current lack of workplace mask consistency, expectations are high that OSHA will adopt a more stringent evidence-based policy to ensure a safe work environment for all employees.
Unlike nonbinding White House or CDC guidelines, OSHA has the congressional authority to enforce requirements in all 50 states and jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Wake Island, and Johnston Island.
Businesses must follow all OSHS requirements under penalty of law. Compliance failures result in fines, jail time, and temporary or permanent business shutdown.
Texas, which removed the mask mandate, may find OSHA knocking on the Austin statehouse doors when OSHA updates its Covid guidance on March 15. An OSHA mandate for Facemasks in the workplace would supersede Governor Abbott’s executive order creating a showdown between Austin and Washington DC.
Tensions will run high. A popular Houston Bar called the Concrete Cowboy scheduled a “mask off” party for March 10, the day Texas Governor Greg Abbott plans to remove all Covid-19 restrictions across the state. Public health leaders and social media push back against a maskless celebration of freedom resulting in the cancellation.
The City of Austin plans to continue to require face masks but is uncertain how to enforce the rules. Austin City bloggers have created master lists of stores and restaurants requiring masks to help guide citizens to safety.
Although a Federal ruling by OSHA will certainly be controversial, it may bring stability to local business as standardized, enforceable guidelines will be consistent across the state.
Most leaders expect OSHA to adopt a six-month emergency temporary coronavirus standard requiring employees to wear masks in the workplace. Masks are the simplest way to protect yourself and others from Covid-19 infection.
It is also expected that OSHA will add evidence-based recommendations on the type of facemasks, exceeding 80% protection standard as outlined by ASTM and ensure a proper fit for all employees.
The last OSHA update was on Jan 29. Face masks were discussed as a key mitigation strategy but were not mandated. The January update required employers to “implement Covid-19 prevention programs in the workplace.” Certain risk reduction strategies were recommended but not mandated. These key measures to limit the spread of Covid-19 included sending sick employees home, implementing physical distancing, installing barriers where physical distancing was not possible, encouraging face coverings. The January update also guided the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) and improving ventilation.
On January 21, President Joe Biden signed an executive order asking OSHA to consider if any new emergency temporary standards are needed to protect workers from Covid-19.
OSHA is required to respond to President Biden’s executive order on March 15, 2021.
Let’s see what happens on Monday. An OSHS vs. Austin showdown may be inevitable.
Image Travis County Health Department
Vaccination is the key to getting our lives back to normal. The current FDA-approved vaccines from Moderna, Phizer, and Johnson and Johnson are highly effective even against the surging B.1.1.7 variant. The Moderna and Phizer vaccines offer 95% protection against Covid-19. Johnson and Johnson’s Janssen vaccine offers 72% protection against infection and 86% against severe disease.
All three are highly effective in preventing death.
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