By Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory and legal issues, ARTBA

President Joe Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to evaluate whether a single, uniform standard across all industries is necessary to combat workplace spread of COVID-19. If the agency determines an emergency temporary standard (ETS) is necessary, Biden’s Jan. 21 executive order requires it be issued by March 15.  

ARTBA previously notified Biden’s transition team of its opposition to an ETS, explaining that workers are better protected from the virus by individual industry best practices rather than a rigid “one-size-fits-all” regulation. Transportation construction workers are primarily outdoors, building or maintaining highways, bridges, transit and rail facilities, airports and seaports.  This is different from many other industries such as food processing, manufacturing, and even other construction sectors. 

Transportation construction personnel are often isolated operating equipment or performing tasks that already facilitate social distancing.  A universal COVID-related ETS may not fully account for the effectiveness of existing safeguards like these.  Further, transportation construction’s outdoor setting also makes it subject to varying weather conditions.  An indiscriminate ETS, directed primarily at indoor industries, could require transportation construction personnel to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) even when working outdoors and socially distanced.  In hotter weather or climates, this type of mandate could be hazardous. 

As OSHA considers whether or not an ETS is needed, ARTBA will continue to work both individually and with our industry partners in the Construction Industry Safety Coalition to urge the agency to acknowledge and incorporate the varying working environments of specific industries, such as transportation construction, in its final decision.