The State Department of Labor Standards stopped enforcing COVID-19 safety standards when the state of emergency expired in June.
Yet the delta variant has resulted in a further increase in the transmission of COVID-19 in the state. Public health and labor leaders say the lack of enforcement leaves workers without a key line of defense against working conditions that can increase their exposure to the virus. Many people continue to work in environments that expose them to colleagues or clients who are not vaccinated.
“Workers have no recourse or no one to turn to if they do not feel safe in the workplace and feel their employer is putting them at risk,” said Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, Director executive of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, adding that some workers fear transmitting the virus to others with whom they live. “There may be guidelines, but without enforcement, they end up without support. “
MassCOSH says Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration should revise the standards, which include distancing and masking protocols, to align with current science rather than repealing them outright. The state’s approach, Sugerman-Brozan said, displays “a continuing denial of the role that workplace exposure plays in the spread of a deadly virus.”
MassCOSH estimated that “hundreds, if not thousands” of workers have died from COVID-19 linked to a workplace infection, and more than 11,000 have filed claims for missing five or more days of work for this that they thought was a work-related infection. .
The state continued to seek permanent repeal of the standards, including organizing a July 21 hearing on the subject. The permanent repeal will take effect no later than September 3, a spokesperson for the Labor Standards Ministry said in an email.
“Occupational safety regulations had been promulgated in accordance with the state of emergency, governor’s decrees and in coordination with public health experts and industrial hygienists, so the DLS urgently repealed them when the state of emergency has ended, ”he added. said the spokesperson.
At the July 21 hearing, all who testified opposed the repeal of the settlement, WCVB reported.
“Vaccines are essential and essential, but they are not a magic shield,” Dr. Julia Koehler, infectious disease physician at Boston Children’s Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School, said during the hearing.
Christine Pontus, associate director of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said it seemed “ill-advised at this time to repeal during a time of uncertainty.”
More than 1,600 occupational health and safety files were opened between June 2020 and May 2021, although “thousands of additional complaints were filed and dismissed without a file being opened,” the spokesperson said. word of the state. Sugerman-Brozan said more than half of the cases resulted in a violation, resulting in safer working conditions when dealt with. Retail and food service received the most complaints, she added.
Sugerman-Brozan said that while she finds it “encouraging” that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has decided to require masking in schools, she believes that the policies of individual state agencies do not replace the state standards. She added that if the state labor standards department did not enforce the standards, workplace safety issues would be left to local public health boards, which she said are already overworked.
“The hope would be that workers would have a place to turn to if they are not safe on the job,” she said. “The piecemeal approach makes it very difficult to ensure that all workers get the protection they need and deserve. “
Danny Jin, a member of the Report for America Corps, is the reporter for The Eagle’s Statehouse. He can be reached at [email protected], @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.