As Katie Johnston reports in “Grocery workers demand better protection” (Business, April 8), front-line essential workers, including grocery and other retail store employees, are succumbing to COVID-19. These employees are not expendable. But regrettably, as they confront potentially lethal hazards each day at work, the federal government has failed to step in and require compliance with a uniform set of practices adaptable to various workplace settings.
On April 8, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued an alert that recommends certain protections for retail workers. But the alert lists safety tips employers “can follow,” not measures they “must” implement. Grocery and retail employees — and all workers — deserve to be protected from exposure to infectious diseases like COVID-19 by an emergency temporary standard that’s enforceable by OSHA. That would be a uniform set of best-practice health and safety requirements that all employers will be held accountable to comply with, not as an option but as a mandate.
And we need OSHA out in the field conducting inspections to ensure that all employers are paying attention. Our cherished front-line workers, in whatever industry, deserve no less.
The writer was the US Labor Department’s regional solicitor from 2010 to 2018, responsible for enforcing federal worker protection laws, including OSHA, in the six New England states.