Protecting workers against future pandemics cannot be left to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration alone, a former OSHA chief said.
State and local public health agencies must step in to better protect at-risk workers, David Michaels, a professor of public health at George Washington University, said in an article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association on Monday.
Michaels was Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA from 2009 to 2017 and advised President Joe Biden during the pandemic.
The COVID-19 public health emergency offered lessons about how to better protect employees in the workplace in the event of future pandemics, he said.
Employers should improve workplace air quality by increasing fresh air flow and filtration, and OSHA should consider issuing a pandemic preparedness standard that articulates “well-understood actions”; to be triggered in the event of a national public health declaration, Michaels said.
OSHA should also have the resources to conduct more inspections and issue penalties with “greater deterrent value” in cases involving workers injured by serious public health conditions, he said.
Michaels urged policymakers to focus on improving paid sick leave to keep sick workers at home so they don’t spread illness as easily to their co-workers.