Biden administration will limit mandatory Covid workplace safety rules to health care settings

“OSHA has tailored a rule that focuses on health care, that science tells us that health care workers, particularly those who have come into regular contact with people either suspected of having or being treated for Covid-19 are most at risk,” he said during a House Education and Labor Committee hearing Wednesday. “We also expect to release some updated guidance for general industry which also reflects the CDC’s latest guidance and tells employers how to protect workers who have not yet been vaccinated.”

The change in direction from the administration on the workplace safety requirements is a letdown for unions and Democrats who argue precautions like masking and social distancing are necessary to protect unvaccinated workers in all workplaces, who may not be getting the shot for a variety of reasons.

President Joe Biden directed the Labor Department to decide by March whether mandatory workplace safety rules that required businesses to take steps to protect their workers from Covid-19 were necessary. After weeks of delay, the administration sent the emergency rules to the White House for review at the end of April.

Unions and other advocates grew concerned about how strong the safety rules would be following the Centers for Disease Control’s surprise update to its guidance in May that cleared fully vaccinated people to remove masks in most settings.

But business groups and conservatives argue that issuing stringent safety requirements this late into the pandemic would create confusion and undermine the economic recovery just as businesses are trying to get back to normalcy.