OSHA Under the Biden Administration: What to Expect

Even if there hadn’t been a pandemic, you could expect to see significant differences between a Trump OSHA and a Biden OSHA. COVID-19 has put emphasis on OSHA and will accelerate changes at the agency.

Here are the changes to expect soon after January 20, 2021, when the new president takes office:

Emergency COVID-19 Standard

Biden has called for the immediate development and enforcement of an Emergency Temporary Standard for COVID-19 in workplaces which would include specific requirements for employers to reduce the spread of the coronavirus among employees.

Under an ETS, employers would be required to establish specific plans to reduce the potential spread of the virus in the workplace. To the extent it’s able, expect the agency to more aggressively pursue worker and union complaints about potential COVID-19 exposures in the workplace.

Penalties could be higher, too. Adjusting penalties is partially at the discretion of OSHA area directors. A change in administration could bring a change in policy regarding whether maximum penalties are doled out.

Joe Biden was President Obama’s vice president. While that doesn’t ensure a one-to-one correlation of policies, it does provide some clues as to the new direction of OSHA.

The Obama administration’s OSHA had been working on an infectious disease standard. The Trump team stopped work on the standard. Expect it to pick up where the Obama team left off and enact it as quickly as possible.

More Inspectors

The number of OSHA inspectors has dropped to a 45-year low. Biden has called for doubling the number of OSHA inspectors. Achieving that will require budgetary cooperation from Congress, which isn’t a given at this point. Again, the Obama administration had a number of proposed OSHA regulations in the works.

With limited exceptions, the Trump administration didn’t move the ball forward much in this area. Questions such as how to regulate new chemicals remain open. Some innovative changes such as control banding were on the table four years ago and could be again.

The Trump administration stopped most OSHA press releases about fines issued to employers. Expect a return to the Obama practice of releasing information about fines above a certain dollar threshold, including sharply worded statements from OSHA about the alleged failures.