Oregon Occupational Safety and Health is working to make permanent — “temporarily” — the emergency COVID workplace rules that it first put in place Nov. 16. 2020.
This rulemaking seems necessary because of requirements in state law, to continue pandemic safeguards that were set to expire next month.
However, we are wary — as many are — of “temporary” permanent rules that are implemented without an expiration date.
In the beginning of the pandemic it was clear that something needed to be done to protect people in the workplace and the public at large. The job fell to state agencies, including Oregon OSHA, that felt their way through a situation about which little was known but immediate action was required.
The danger from COVID-19 is real. Wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and taking steps to keep surfaces clean are simple, commonsense precautions. The rules that farms and businesses must follow are anything but simple, and in many cases defy common sense.
In November 2020, Oregon OSHA set out a comprehensive temporary rule that governed behavior and safeguards in all Oregon workplaces.
Oregon farms, already reeling from earlier emergency orders, raced to comply with state-imposed guidelines aimed at curbing workplace outbreaks of COVID-19. Complying with the requirements has been a massive undertaking for small, family-owned farms that may only have a few full-time employees. Ninety-seven percent of Oregon’s 37,200 farms are family owned and operated.
Those temporary rules are set to expire on May 4. Under Oregon law, an emergency rule can’t be extended longer than 180 days. And, a permanent rule is temporary if it has a built-in expiration date.
OSHA says it can’t anticipate how long the temporary permanent rules will need to be in place, but it will amend or abolish them as conditions warrant and health officials give consent.
Michael Wood, administrator of the state’s Department of Occupational Safety and Health, told the Associated Press that the workplace rule is “driven by the pandemic, and it will be repealed.”
We are sure that it will be repealed. Probably.
But when? What objective standard will the Oregon Health Authority or OSHA use to judge that it’s time to amend or repeal the rule?
Throughout the pandemic, the state has refused to set transparent mileposts and goals for pandemic improvement that the public can monitor. These decisions are made behind closed doors and without explanation.
Our long experience in reporting on rules and rulemaking has shown that once a permanent rule is in place, it sticks like glue. But we look forward to these rules being the exception.
Until that time, all interested parties should press Wood and other bureaucrats to reveal what improvements need to take place for the rule to be repealed.