Government Relations Roundup
An Update on AIHA Activities
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The past year has been one of the busiest periods ever for AIHA’s Government Relations department. From February 2021, when we issued a letter to the White House on the reopening of America’s schools and businesses to our present work on OSHA’s heat stress standard and EPA’s asbestos risk evaluation, we have remained committed to serving you and working on the issues you care about the most.
AIHA has trained hundreds of volunteers on effective advocacy practices by bringing in legislative and agency staff to speak with our Government Relations Committee members. The government staff provided an insiders’ view of the legislative process and tips for writing effective comments to government agencies. Subject matter experts throughout the country also joined AIHA Government Relations staff for effective meetings with state and federal legislators and their staff on issues such as mold, indoor environmental quality, COVID-19, and more.
This article presents an overview of many recent activities conducted by AIHA’s Government Relations department, thanks to the generous help and support of our volunteers.
WORK WITH AGENCIES In 2021, an AIHA delegation met with U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh; Doug Parker, the new leader of OSHA; OSHA Acting Assistant Secretary Jim Frederick; and Deputy Assistant Secretary Mandy Edens to discuss the COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS), climate change adaptation, heat stress, vector-borne illnesses, help in recruiting Certified Safety and Health Officials, and other issues. We also encouraged the Department of Labor (DOL) to provide more funds to OSHA staff to attend professional development conferences such as AIHce EXP. 
We continued our strong relationship with OSHA as a member of the agency’s Alliance Ambassador Program, helping plan and participate in several outreach events, including Safe + Sound Week, the teen workplace health and safety campaign, the 2021 National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, and more. 
In addition, AIHA has continued to submit comments from our membership on rulemakings and guidance from federal agencies. Here are some of the recent activities we’ve responded to:
Vaccination and testing ETS. AIHA’s comments (PDF) addressed several aspects of the ETS, including COVID-19 testing and removal, the modes of transmission of SARS-CoV-2, face coverings, controls, and reporting and recordkeeping. OSHA withdrew the ETS earlier this year following the Supreme Court decision blocking its implementation, but the agency has indicated it will initiate a rulemaking for a permanent standard on infectious disease prevention.
COVID-19 healthcare ETS. Among the issues addressed in AIHA’s comments (PDF) are screening of patients and employees, recordkeeping, best practices for reducing the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2, cleaning and disinfecting, hand hygiene, and ventilation. The comments also argue that the ETS’ requirement for healthcare organizations to create a “mini-respiratory protection program” is unnecessary.
Stress and mental health. In September 2021, NIOSH requested information about interventions to prevent work-related stress and promote mental health and well-being among U.S. health workers. In its Federal Register notice, the agency observed that these challenges have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has “contributed to new and worsening mental health concerns, including burnout, compassion fatigue, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and suicidal ideation.” AIHA’s comments (PDF) responded to questions from NIOSH about workplaces with existing mental health services and methods of communicating about mental health services.
Climate change. The intent of the U.S. Labor Department’s Climate Action Plan (PDF) is to identify and prepare for challenges to DOL’s activities presented by the changing climate. AIHA’s comments (PDF) express support for the CAP and recommend adding provisions for personal protective equipment, rest, water, and shade; references to wildfires, air quality, vector-borne diseases, and protection against mold and other microbial contamination; mental health effects of climate change; and administrative controls such as the posting of heat stress warning notices.
Engineered nanomaterials. Last July, NIOSH requested technical review of a draft version of the agency’s publication Approaches to Developing Occupational Exposure Limits or Bands for Engineered Nanomaterials: User Guide and Technical Report. AIHA’s comments (PDF) respond to several questions in the request for information about the draft report’s characterization of OELs and occupational exposure bands, discussion of inhalation exposure, and other issues.
Over the past year-plus, AIHA members have stepped forward to volunteer their expertise in service of protecting workers and their communities throughout the United States.
PPE use for underserved users. In June 2021, NIOSH sought feedback from stakeholders on the needs and challenges underserved populations experience when using PPE. AIHA submitted two sets of comments: the first (PDF) shares feedback from members across the association, and the second (PDF) from the AIHA Women in Industrial Hygiene Committee. The comments from WIH identify several issues that need further attention, including the poor fit of PPE due to “universal” sizing, the lack of sizing options for welding helmets and powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) hoods, the inability to alter flame-resistant clothing once it has been purchased, and the poor fit in general of coveralls and body garments. Recommendations for people vaccinated against COVID-19. In May 2021, CDC released interim recommendations stating that fully vaccinated people could abandon the wearing of face coverings and physical distancing except where those practices were required by law. In response, AIHA signed on to a letter (PDF) from several health and safety organizations noting public confusion about the interim recommendations and urging leaders of CDC and DOL to protect workers, businesses, and communities by clarifying the recommendations. Heat injury and illness prevention. OSHA’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings lists more than100 questions for which the agency sought information from stakeholders. AIHA’s comments, released this year, address many of OSHA’s questions in detail (PDF). Aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Working with subject matter experts within our membership and other associations, in 2021, AIHA succeeded in calling on CDC and OSHA to clarify that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted via the air. OSHA’s ETS on vaccination and testing noted that “airborne transmission [of SARS-CoV-2] may occur in indoor spaces without adequate ventilation where small respiratory particles are able to remain suspended in the air and accumulate.” Natural disasters. In partnership with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Worker Training Program, AIHA issued new guidance to protect volunteers from COVID-19 during response to and recovery from natural disasters (PDF). WORK WITH CONGRESS AIHA issued an action alert urging members of Congress to prioritize workplace health and safety as they worked on infrastructure legislation throughout 2021. In November, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act, which would provide $707 million to OSHA for enforcement, standards development, whistleblower investigations, compliance assistance, funding for state plans, and related activities. The bill would also provide $133 million to MSHA for carrying out enforcement, standard-setting, technical assistance, and related activities.  The appropriations bill for fiscal year 2022 (FY22) passed by the House aligns with AIHA’s recommendations and would provide $691.7 million to OSHA (a $100 million increase over the current funding level) and $360.3 million to NIOSH (a $15 million increase that includes $32 million for NIOSH’s Education and Research Centers). The House report (PDF) for the FY22 bill encourages OSHA to take action on hearing loss prevention by lowering the current permissible exposure limit to an 85 dBA time-weighted average using a 3 dB exchange rate, which is the same recommendation that AIHA and several other organizations have been making for years. This action would also align OSHA with the current exposure limits used by the Department of Defense.  The explanatory statement (PDF) to the Senate’s version of the appropriations bill also encourages OSHA to issue standards on workplace violence prevention, heat stress, and infectious diseases. While the explanatory statement does not carry the force of law, it is a powerful tool for sending messages from congressional leadership to government agencies. This language thus serves as an important metric of progress for the OEHS community.  In April 2021, the House also passed the AIHA-supported Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, which would call on OSHA to issue a workplace violence prevention standard.  Our interactions with legislators also included written testimony to congressional leadership in support of OSHA and NIOSH funding (PDF), a letter from the Friends of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to congressional leadership in support of funding for NIEHS and its Worker Training Program (PDF), and an expression of support for U.S. H.R.1195, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (PDF). State-Level Action on Heat Our volunteers have continued their commitment to public service, stepping forward to serve on Virginia’s Regulatory Advisory Panel, which worked on the state’s proposed heat stress standard. AIHA also submitted comments (PDF) on the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s proposal to develop and adopt a standard to reduce or eliminate employee injuries, illnesses, and fatalities due to exposure to excessive heat at indoor and outdoor places of work. Another Virginia bill that we’re monitoring would direct the development of guidelines on policies to educate coaches and student athletes on heat-related illness and preventive activities. In neighboring Maryland, AIHA attended and participated in public hearings on a workplace heat stress standard developed by Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH). Information about this forthcoming standard is available from the MOSH website. Both chambers of the Florida legislature are working on heat illness prevention bills (Florida Senate and Florida House of Representatives). A pair of bills in New York (State Assembly and State Senate) would establish maximum heat exposure levels for covered employees. New Jersey, too, is considering a bill that would require public colleges to adopt a policy for preventing and treating heat illness. Deeper Bonds Over the past year-plus, AIHA members have stepped forward to volunteer their expertise in service of protecting workers and their communities throughout the United States. Together, we have forged deeper bonds with policymakers and each other, improving public policies with the power of applied OEHS scientific knowledge. We have shown what dedicated persistence and focus can accomplish. MARK AMES is AIHA’s director of Government Relations.  Editor’s note: Portions of this article were previously published, in different form, on the SynergistNOW blog. Send feedback to The Synergist.

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