WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Congressmen Jamie Raskin, Steny H. Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Anthony G. Brown, and David Trone (all D-Md.) in urging Governor Hogan to implement coronavirus workplace protections for Marylanders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, the Members called on Governor Hogan to issue an executive order directing the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) agency to develop and implement an enforceable emergency temporary standard (ETS) to prevent, contain, and mitigate community spread of COVID-19. The request follows an alarming increase in coronavirus cases across the state, including a seven-day positivity rate exceeding 5% for the first time since June 24 and the most hospitalizations since June 17.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have issued dozens of industry-specific guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 federal guidelines recommended by the CDC and OSHA are voluntary for employers and not enforceable through penalties and citations. However, given that Maryland is one of 22 states with its own occupational safety agency (MOSH) responsible for both the public and private sectors, it is well-situated to leverage its authority to save lives by issuing an ETS. Several states have already issued such protective standards, and neighboring Virginia was the first in the nation to adopt emergency workplace safety standards in response to the pandemic.
The Members wrote: “…Virginia’s ETS is considerably more comprehensive than Maryland’s updated executive order from October 16, 2020. The October 16th executive order includes some best practices for businesses in the retail and service industry that serve the general public, but it fails to outline broader workplace protections to protect worker rights and proper COVID-19 trainings, communications about possible exposure to the virus, safe staffing operations, and sanitation for all worksites.”
The Members continued: “In the absence of enforceable standards for COVID-19 workplace protections, the health and safety of many workers and their families will continue to depend solely on the discretion of their employers. While many employers have taken this responsibility seriously, others have failed to provide employees with adequate PPE and cleaning supplies, not enforced social distancing requirements, or otherwise failed to protect their workers … Given that many of our most essential workers during this pandemic are also those most vulnerable to workplace abuse and discrimination, it is critical for an ETS to be issued to empower all workers to understand their rights during this pandemic and establish an efficient and trustworthy system for reporting concerns of inadequate COVID-19 protocols.”
Last month, the Baltimore-based Public Justice Center filed a lawsuit alleging MOSH has failed to properly investigate workplace hazards, leaving workers vulnerable during the pandemic. Although MOSH has received nearly 500 worker complaints since March 1, it has only conducted on-site inspections in 30 of those cases. Earlier this year, labor and environmental organizations urged Governor Hogan to issue an Executive Order requiring MOSH to adopt new workplace protections to better protect workers during the pandemic.
Full text of the letter is available here.