Oregon’s workplace safety agency said this week it is relaxing standards for COVID-19 safety precautions, adjusting rules to conform with new state health guidance. That means the end to formal mask requirements and other precautions.
The state Occupational Safety and Health Division, known as Oregon OSHA, established emergency safety rules in 2020, early in the pandemic. Six months later, in April 2021, the agency moved to extend those protections.
Because Oregon law allows emergency rules to remain in place for just 180 days, though, OSHA said it needed to make those rules nominally “permanent” to keep them in place.
Vaccines were proliferating at the time, and many states were repealing mask mandates altogether, so Oregon’s decision to use the “permanent rulemaking” process ignited a furor. OSHA said at the time that it intended to remove the workplace rules whenever COVID case levels allowed it, but it faced criticism for not setting specific metrics for when that would be.
The pandemic surged and waned intermittently over the next 11 months, but Oregon is now enjoying a sharp decline in infection rates, and the state repealed most indoor mask requirements earlier this month.
So OSHA said this week that it’s relaxing its rules, following guidance from the Oregon Health Authority. OSHA said this week it won’t enforce last year’s rules while it begins the regulatory process to repeal the “permanent” changes enacted last April.
While the rulemaking process is underway, OSHA said it will enforce a few standards:
· Employers must allow workers to voluntarily wear masks, and employers must provide them free to workers who want them.
· Employers conducting COVID-19 testing must cover the costs of those tests, including employees’ time and travel.
OSHA said employers should also “optimize” indoor ventilation to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and notify employees who of potential exposure to COVID-19 at work.
The old, higher safety standards remain in place for what OSHA calls “exceptional risk workplaces.” In general, that refers to health care settings with direct patient care. The state still requires masks in those settings.