Baker Administration Set to Repeal COVID-19 Worker Protections Despite New OSHA Guidance

August 27, 2021
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently issued updated guidance to help protect workers from the coronavirus. The guidance reflects developments in science and data, including the Centers for Disease Control's updated COVID-19 guidance issued July 27. Among other recommendations, it urges vaccinated workers to wear masks in areas of substantial or high transmission, a label all 14 counties in Massachusetts have received. Despite the new guidelines, and rising rates of infection due to the highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2 delta variant, Governor Charlie Baker’s administration is moving forward with plans to repeal the regulations put in place to protect workers from occupational exposure to COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Workplace Safety Regulations which went into effect in June 2020 protected workers and their families from occupational exposure to COVID-19 through masking and social distancing to cleaning and disinfecting. While the Department of Labor Standards (DLS) stopped enforcing the regulations on May 29, they are set to be formally repealed on August 20. MassCOSH found that the State’s COVID-19 Workplace Health and Safety regulations, while not as strong as they could have been, made workers safer. During the time the DLS regulations were in place, from June 2020 through May 2021, more than 1,600 workplace complaints were made regarding unsafe COVID-19 practices, with 53% resulting in violations that when remedied, made workers safer from occupational exposure to COVID-19. The industries with the most complaints included retail, restaurant, and foodservice.
While DLS handled more than 1,600 workplace health and safety complaints, thousands more went directly to local public health agencies who were also tasked with enforcing the regulations. Without statewide standards to protect workers, underfunded and overworked local public health departments are now forced to develop and implement mandates and policies to protect workers, students, teachers, and their communities. This not only leads to the politicization of COVID-19 protections but a different approach in each of the Commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns.