OSHA ‘overreach’ upsets health department head

John Wagner

On Friday afternoon, Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner sent several media outlets a copy of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration letter dated Jan. 6 advising a Monroe County business of a complaint filed against it through the U.S. Department of Labor in OSHA’s Fairview Heights Area Office.

The complaint alleges employees of this small Columbia business are exposed to COVID-19 “due to the employer’s failure to enforce social distancing among workers or the use of face mask(s) in the workplace” and the “employer not sanitizing and disinfecting the workplace.”

Wagner said the complaint is “absolutely ridiculous” and an “overreach of OSHA.”

He said the complaint is “not in the realm of responsibility” of OSHA. As a “public health issue … involving a viral infection,” Wagner said the complainant should have been referred to the Monroe County Health Department.

OSHA has been in the news for most of the new year. Nationally, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Friday morning concerning an OSHA “emergency temporary standard” policy requiring employers with greater than 100 employees to develop a mandatory vaccine or testing policy for unvaccinated employees by Jan. 10.

Locally, the Columbia City Council grappled with how to proceed under this OSHA mandate for city employees at its Jan. 3 meeting.

Wagner told the Republic-Times on Friday that this complaint against the Monroe County business is something that could “only happen in Illinois.”

The business, which Wagner described as a “mom and pop” employer with only a dozen or so employees, would not be subject to OSHA’s ETS mandate, he said.

According to the letter, this business has until Jan. 13 to provide “documentation” of an investigation and “any necessary corrections or modifications” of “alleged conditions.” If the business does not respond by that date, it may become the subject of an OSHA investigation.

Wagner argued OSHA is using its state offices to perpetrate an “intimidation tactic.”

“How can you target (businesses) in one state?” Wagner asked, pointing out that businesses some Missouri counties, where masking is not required, would not be subject to investigation by OSHA.

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