More than 1,000 worker deaths from COVID-19 that were linked to workplace transmission were never investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at the state or local level, a Wall Street Journal investigation found. The Journal notes that the number likely understates that actual toll.
Many of those fatalities weren't reported to OSHA agencies by employers in the first place, but David Michaels, the OSHA director in the Obama administration, told the Journal the coronavirus pandemic still "exposed OSHA's great weaknesses."
Indeed, the Journal reports, OSHA records and state health care data show the agencies often took limited steps when they did respond to safety complaints. For example, the Journal identified 180 COVID-19 deaths among workers that occurred four weeks or more after complaints to OSHA agencies. In those cases, the investigation didn't extend beyond corresponding with employers. And despite an increase in complaints during the pandemic, OSHA agencies actually conducted fewer inspections than they did in the previous year.
But, aside from a lack of action, it seems there were also built-in inefficiencies that left the OSHA unprepared to respond to pandemic. The agency's rules, the Journal reports, are "designed to minimize chemical-exposure risks and injuries such as falls and electric shocks," not infectious disease. Officials did start drafting rules centered on preventing the spread of such diseases in healthcare facilities after the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, but never completed the process. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.
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