In a concerning move, the Republican party continues to push forward with their corporate liability shield strategy which is increasingly becoming a focal point of their economic stimulus negotiations.
The economic stimulus measure includes a provision that could possibly reduce the ability of government authorities and federal agencies from enforcing the laws put in place to protect employees and people with disabilities while assisting businesses.
Specifically the measure proposed would mean the businesses are free from following the stringent safety regulations released by certain governing bodies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, if they are seen to be following the often weaker and less demanding government regulations and guidelines provided.
According to many health and safety experts providing the option for businesses to pick and choose the guidelines and regulations they follow can lead to many of the stricter regulations being undermined and in some extreme cases these regulations run the risk of being eliminated completely.
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This economic stimulus measure is seen as particularly worrying at a time when many people are worried about the current pandemic. The reason for this is because the proposed bill can reduce the COVID safety precautions put in place to protect employees therefore leading to an increase in the COVID 19 spread as well as illnesses and fatalities, with this in mind many employees feel uneasy about conducting their responsibilities within the workplace however they find that they are not in the position to leave their job due to the pandemic.
A number of business spokespeople have addressed the issue and said that the economic stimulus measure will assist companies by reducing the amount of unnecessary fines they will have to pay when conducting their business, an example of this is the personal protective equipment regulation, employers are advised to provide personal protective equipment to employees but employees are increasingly finding themselves in the position where they need to provide their owns masks, this would usually be seen as a OSHA violation.
It is worth noting that the creation of a uniform federal occupational health and safety standard that addresses employee safety is a major priority for the Democratic party, at the moment with the Biden Administration soon coming into power. The measure is being presented as a bipartisan effort however the measure has been strongly backed by a mainly republication contingent.
Unpacking the economic stimulus measure further shows that a business will not be liable to any form of enforcement proceedings, but what does this mean for federal agencies like OSHA. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration would effectively be relieved of their ability to enforce employee protection policies that they were originally created for.
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This should be gravely concerning for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, after all OSHA’s duty is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of employees. The organization achieves this responsibility by releasing health and safety guidelines for businesses to follow.
OSHA enforces these guidelines through work site inspections. Businesses in turn educate their staff with the assistance of an occupational health and safety officer or through the implementation of an occupational safety application, Safety Assure is an example of the health and safety apps used.
These tools and specialists are enlisted to maintain health and safety standards as previously stated.
Certain outspoken proponents of the economic stimulus guidelines proposed that the measure will still allow federal agencies to go after extreme offenders who put the lives of their employees at risk, however they will not be able to go after a business who violates OSHA regulations in an attempt to comply with the governments covid related health guidelines. This is a worrying notion as the virus continues to spread at alarming rates.
While the proposed bill affects employees they can also affect consumers as well. Disability acts which prohibit the discriminated ill treatment of people with disabilities are being undermined with COVID 19 safety precautions taking precedence over accessibility in some case, an example of this is wheelchair accessible entrances being closed due to COVID safety guidelines restricting the number of people within a venue at a time.
The easing of disability compliance regulations in favor of other acts can have devastating consequences as certain rights may be seen as more essential or important than others. The undermining of basic rights is not the only point of concern, reducing the responsibility businesses have in exchange for an economic boost can also leave patrons susceptible to illnesses or death as other health and safety factors may not be taken into account.
The US Chamber of Commerce has been noted as backing the measure alongside the republican senators who have called for it however with many legal barriers, questions and unclear answers will companies continue to grow at the expense of people’s safety and if so who will be left vulnerable.