ASK THE CANDIDATES: How will you make sure North Carolina workers stay healthy in the face of COVID-19?
North Carolina’s employees are, in many cases, working in places that don’t provide adequate protections against COVID19. North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has not issued a standard for employers to follow to protect employees from COVID-19. Do you support NC OSHA issuing a COVID-specific standard?
Will you allocate additional resources to increasing the ability of NC OSHA to investigate workplaces in industries with high numbers of positive COVID-19 cases, such as prisons and meat processing facilities?
If not, what steps do you believe NC OSHA should take to protect workers from the pandemic?
North Carolina needs to protect all workers from the devastating effects of COVID-19. Creating an OSHA standard for businesses would help keep workers and their families safe at a time when many people have no choice but to go to work.
FACTS YOU CAN USE
Federal OSHA has not issued a COVID-19 standard. Some states like North Carolina that have state OSHA plans have put out enforceable standards. For example, Virginia is finalizing enforceable workplace rules dealing with symptomatic workers, notifying employees of possible exposure, and requiring sanitation, physical distancing, and disinfection.
North Carolina has had more than 64,000 cases of COVID-19 as of June 29, 2020. Multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported in state meatpacking plants, nursing homes, jails and prisons, and other workplaces.
Some states have issued OSHA rules for industry sectors where workers are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Washington and Oregon, for example, have put out enforceable rules to protect farmworkers.
North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services has issued detailed guidance for businesses, including specific guidance for meatpacking facilities, agricultural operations, childcare facilities, and nursing homes, but most of the recommendations are not enforceable.
NC OSHA has put out very few recommendations for employers on how to protect employees from COVID-19 and has issued no enforceable requirements. Their educational efforts are focused on how employees can protect themselves, rather than the employer’s legal obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace.
People of color are suffering from higher rates of COVID-19 infection and are disproportionately represented in the highest risk jobs in North Carolina.