Despite having navigated life in the time of a pandemic for a year, there is still uncharted territory in everyone’s day-to-day life. Schools worldwide are dealing with the effects and possibilities of students returning to campus or continuing with hybrid learning. Social outings and livelihoods have taken a hit, as have businesses and employee/employer relations.

Officials from the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) held a collaborative online discussion regarding a number of workplace health and safety concerns. Also involved in coordinating and facilitating the discussion were members of FDR Safety, experts in health and safety training. The session focused on OSHA’s COVID emergency standard, the severe violator enforcement program, increased workplace inspections and the Enhanced Whistle Blower Act.

Ensuring consistency among the OSHA standards to mitigate the effects of COVID was an important discussion point. Steve Hawkins, vice president of FDR safety, explained how an imminent Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) will be issued by the administration.

The standard is expected to be the codification of the latest OSHA recommendations, and the states are expected to adopt identical or similar standards to ensure consistency, according to Hawkins.

According to officials, a National Emphasis Program (NEP) issued by OSHA is currently in effect. States must inform the administration of their plans to adopt the NEP, a similar NEP or not adopt the NEP by May 12, though OSHA expects most states to adopt.

According to the session, the severe violator enforcement program (SVEP) will focus primarily on “employers who willfully and repeatedly endanger workers by exposing them to serious hazards.” Enforcement includes increased inspections, and the list of those on the SVEP will be made public. Part of ensuring the safety of workers is the whistleblower protection that is highlighted in the NEP. Activities covered by the provision include filing complaints and concerns with OSHA or employers regarding face coverings, social distancing and COVID exposure. On May 19, OSHA will be hosting a public teleconference to learn how the agency can improve the whistleblower program. According to OSHA, the agency is seeking comments on how it can better deliver its whistleblower services; what kind of assistance it can provide to help explain the agency’s whistleblower laws to employees and employers; and how it can ensure that workers are protected from retaliation for raising concerns related to the pandemic.