As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the roofing industry, NRCA is providing its members with the information they need to navigate the crisis and ensure the safety and health of their employees and customers.
One important task is supporting sound regulatory policy by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA’s mission is to ensure employers provide safe workplaces for employees, an objective that is particularly difficult during a public health crisis.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, OSHA has provided voluntary guidance regarding how to implement coronavirus mitigation measures for a range of industries, including retail, construction, meatpacking and restaurant. OSHA officials believe providing industry-specific guidelines is a more effective approach to ensuring employers can adjust to new conditions quickly rather than issuing an emergency temporary regulatory standard that mandates specific protocols for all employers. Providing guidance tailored to individual industries affords greater flexibility and allows agency officials to act more quickly than if they took more general regulatory action.
NRCA’s staff and leadership recognize the hazards of COVID-19, and NRCA has provided recommendations for how roofing industry employers can ensure employees and customers are protected in the workplace and on job sites based on public health guidelines set forth by OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This includes providing comprehensive materials for member companies to use when implementing proper safety, distancing and disinfecting measures to reduce workers’ risk of exposure. These recommendations, available at www.nrca.net/covid19, reflect that a majority of roofing-related job tasks fall within OSHA’s lower exposure risk tier in its occupational risk guidance for COVID-19 as the tasks entail minimal contact with the public and other workers. NRCA appreciates the efforts of OSHA officials to provide proactive guidance to help construction industry employers address the issues raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the crisis has unfolded, OSHA has come under criticism from some lawmakers, primarily congressional Democrats, for not issuing an emergency temporary standard mandating specific coronavirus mitigation measures. The COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act of 2020 (H.R. 6559) has been introduced in the House of Representatives and, if enacted, would require OSHA to issue such a standard.
In addition, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations has filed a lawsuit to compel OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard as OSHA did during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. In May, the House Education Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a hearing to review the issue. Subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) charged the agency with failing to adequately protect workers who face coronavirus hazards and urged her colleagues to support H.R. 6559.
NRCA is greatly concerned proposals such as H.R. 6559 would compel OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard and subsequent permanent standards for infectious diseases. By mandating OSHA issue a new standard before the agency has had time to collect and analyze data about the prevalence of workplace exposure to and contraction of COVID-19, the bill would likely be counterproductive in helping employers establish safe working environments.
Guidance issued by the federal government is rapidly changing as medical understanding of how COVID-19 spreads continues to evolve. For example, when Loren Sweatt, principal deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, and John Howard, M.D., director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, testified at the May subcommittee hearing, the CDC was updating its guidance weekly or daily.
Given this constantly changing situation, an emergency temporary standard could quickly become outdated. Prematurely issuing one-size-fits-all regulations for all industries regardless of risk would not help employers or employees navigate the situation and could even be counterproductive. Therefore, issuing a temporary standard is neither the best approach in an emerging health crisis nor the best use of OSHA’s finite resources.
NRCA believes OSHA’s current approach of issuing and updating industry-specific guidance takes into consideration the fluid nature of the COVID-19 situation and offers a more flexible approach to ensuring regulated industries are given the most up-to-date information and resources. Additionally, it should be noted OSHA has the authority to undertake enforcement actions related to COVID-19 situations under the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
NRCA takes action
NRCA and other members of the Construction Industry Safety Coalition recently sent a letter to members of Congress urging lawmakers to work cooperatively in a bipartisan manner to address OSHA policy. Congressional efforts should fully assess the extent to which COVID-19 presents a risk in various workplaces and industries before mandating regulatory action, including the potential issuance of an infectious disease standard.
NRCA understands the importance of giving members the information and tools needed to ensure a safe work environment and the role OSHA policy plays in that regard. We will continue working with OSHA officials, members of Congress and other stakeholders to ensure regulatory actions are sensible and effective for the roofing industry.
This column is part of Rules + Regs. Click here to read additional stories from this section.