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Public Citizen Files Brief on Behalf of Three Former OSHA Administrators Supporting Workplace COVID Standard

Public Citizen Litigation Group today filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of three former U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) administrators: Charles Jeffress, David Michaels, and Gerard Scannell. The brief, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, supports OSHA’s emergency motion to lift a court-ordered stay of the emergency temporary standard on COVID-19 vaccination, testing, and masking in the workplace.

The stay, which was issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit before all cases challenging the standard were transferred to the Sixth Circuit, rested in large part on the Fifth Circuit panel’s view that OSHA lacks authority to protect workers against workplace exposures to viruses and other infectious, disease-causing agents.

The brief explains that the Fifth Circuit’s view is contrary to the plain language of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which gives OSHA broad authority to prevent workplace illnesses and diseases caused by exposure to “harmful physical agents,” including viruses.

OSHA consistently has interpreted the act to authorize protections against infectious agents, including bloodborne pathogens, airborne viruses, and bacteria – such as the tuberculosis bacillus – as well as other hazardous conditions that workers encounter both at work and elsewhere.

“OSHA’s authority to protect workers against workplace exposures to viruses and other disease-causing agents is clear. The agency’s emergency COVID-19 standard must be allowed to go into effect to prevent more needless, preventable loss of life.”

  • Scott Nelson, attorney, Public Citizen Litigation Group

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a massive workplace disaster, with on-the-job exposures killing many thousands of workers. Our brief makes it clear that the ETS is exactly what OSHA was created to do.”

  • David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health from Dec. 2009 to Jan. 2016

Read more about the case.