OSHA delays temporary coronavirus protections for farmworkers
The Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Administration announced Friday, May 8, it will delay the implementation of temporary rules intended to protect farmworkers from coronavirus exposure this harvest season.
Growers were initially required to implement the regulations by May 11, but OSHA decided to provide more time to comply with the rules after receiving requests from employers.
OSHA created rules requiring social distancing and additional sanitation measures in fieldwork, labor housing and worksite transportation in April after receiving pressure from healthcare officials and workers' rights advocates.
Advocates said existing sanitation practices and housing conditions could increase the risk of coronavirus exposure for farmworkers and potentially cause outbreaks of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
Supporters of the temporary rules point out that seasonal farmworkers are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because they largely travel from outside the United States, primarily Mexico, and often lack access to adequate healthcare.
In Washington County, where farmworkers harvest some of the largest amounts of manual labor-intensive crops like fruit, tree nuts and berries in the state, Latinos have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, making up nearly half of all confirmed cases.
In response to OSHA's announcement of the regulations, employers said they didn't have enough time nor resources to implement the changes by the deadline.
"There are considerable supply chain issues that make complying with these rules impossible," the Oregon Farm Bureau said in a statement. "The rules also reduce the amount of available housing for farm employees, including in rural areas where there are no viable alternative lodging options available."
The delay will "allow more time for Oregon OSHA to fully complete educational efforts to help employers understand and meet the rule's requirements," OSHA said in a statement after delaying the implementation of the rules.
After June 1, the rules will remain in effect no later than Oct. 24.
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