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McMaster vows to fight any OSHA takeover of SC business’ safety plans amid COVID-19

·3 min read

The federal government is threatening to take away approval of South Carolina’s workplace safety plan because the state hasn’t adopted federal safety standards for health care settings put in to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Henry McMaster is vowing to fight the proposed takeover in court, he tweeted Wednesday.

South Carolina, along with Utah and Arizona, have not adopted temporary health care settings standards. Those standards include requirements to provide some employees with N95 respirators or other personal protective equipment, and ensure 6 feet between workers. If 6 feet is not possible, employees should have barriers between workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard also requires providing workers with paid time off to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and to recover from any side effects.

Those standards were established by OSHA in June, and have to be included in the state’s work safety plan.

“The health care emergency temporary standard is aimed at protecting workers facing the highest coronavirus hazards — those working in healthcare settings where suspected or confirmed coronavirus patients are treated,” said Mandy McClure, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Labor.

By not adopting equivalent standards, South Carolina is putting health care workers at risk for workplace exposure to COVID-19 acting Assistant Labor Secretary James Frederick wrote in a letter to Emily Farr, the director of the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

OSHA has started a process, which includes a 35-day comment period before final revocation of approval of the state’s work place safety plan. South Carolina receives $2.3 million a year from the federal government through the plan.

“OSHA has worked in good faith to help South Carolina come into compliance with their requirement to adopt an equivalent emergency standard but their continued refusal is a failure to maintain their state plan commitments to thousands of workers in South Carolina,” Frederick said in a call with reporters.

This warning from the federal government comes as the Biden administration plans to require COVID-19 vaccines for all hospital workers, businesses with more than 100 employees and federal contractors.

“This is clearly a preemptive strike by the federal government,” McMaster tweeted on Wednesday. “With no state regulators in the way, the federal Labor Department will be free to penalize employers who do not comply with President Biden’s unconstitutional vaccine mandate. To protect South Carolina employers, I have instructed LLR Director Emily Farr to begin immediate preparations for a vigorous and lengthy legal fight.”

The state LLR said it was disappointed in OSHA’s decision, saying the state has a lower injury and illness rate of 2.4 cases per 100 full time workers in 2019 compared to the national average of 2.8.

“We are disappointed that federal OSHA has decided to take this step against our very successful State OSHA program,” Farr said in a statement. “Our state plan is built on a foundation of passion and commitment to the safety of the state’s employees as well as a strong partnership with employers, industry and community leaders, and interest groups and associations to ensure the same.”

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