One of Joe Biden’s many Executive Orders, since taking office as the new US President, has directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue guidance to employers on how to protect workers from COVID-19.

US President Joe Biden signing one of his many Executive Orders since taking office.

The Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety requires OSHA to release guidance to employers on workplace safety during the pandemic and to evaluate whether any emergency temporary standards are needed. The Agency has until 15 March to issue emergency standards, which could include mask-wearing in the workplace.

The order also requires a review of OSHA’s enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 and requires the administration to identify what changes could be made to protect workers, including those within long-term care facilities.

“With OSHA missing in action for all these months, thousands of lives have been lost,” according to David Michaels, former head of OSHA under President Obama.

David Michaels, former head of OSHA under President Obama.

“President Biden is telling OSHA to consider whether to issue a standard, which it has to do legally. There’s no doubt they will issue a standard which will have clear requirements for employers to protect workers.”

Biden has also told the agency to ramp up enforcement and to use its resources to help the hardest-hit communities and workers who are most at risk, Michaels said.

The biggest difference, he added, is that employers likely now will risk facing large monetary fines for not complying with the OSHA standard, compared with a minor slap on the wrist they would have faced under the previous administration.

Since Federal OSHA laws can only go so far, the president also has asked Congress to pass legislation strengthening and expanding OSHA’s authority.

Biden also issued a separate Executive Order to set up a pandemic testing board that will work to co-ordinate federal testing efforts. The board will look at any issues such as major testing shortages and how to boost testing for at-risk settings such as factories or long-term care facilities.