NO SAFETY QUESTION IS SMALL, ESPECIALLY NOW

Dear Mother, it’s thoughtful of you to seek an answer to protecting your daughter from disease when she follows orders to clean a restroom. Her employer should provide protection equipment and instructions, not only from blood and stool, but for COVID-19. Our site has responded to similar questions, one which is to a question answered  by Associate Workplace Doctor, Tina Lewis Rowe. It’s site is included in this response to your question. Our site is committed to workplace communication topics, not medical; however, the work situation of your daughter certainly demands candid communication with her supervisor. I think you’ll find more than enough advice about that in Tina’s response referred to below. Tenant restroom left a mess https://workplacedr.comm.kent.edu/tenant-restroom-left-a-mess/  I hope this quick note helps. We may send additional information within a few days. –William Gorden

Also I’m sending a site in which the situation is opposite that of your concern for your daughter–It’s a daughter’s concern for her mother’s in unpleasant job assignment. –William Gorden
Should I Go Higher? https://workplacedr.comm.kent.edu/should-i-go-higher/ 

FOLLOW UP I promised to send you more information once it arrived. It from Robert Byers, who has a long career as a Safety Consultant to Corporations. His advice adds credibility to what we have sent and perspective in light of our federal commitment, or should I say lack of commitment to safety.                    

I have spent the last 24 years traveling the United States  and helping businesses large and small with their safety programs and training their employees on OSHA Compliance. In response to your direct question about the requirement to clean the restroom, my response would be that if her job description was written to require cleaning of the restrooms (or the old favorite technique “other duties as assigned”), then she would be required to do so, even though this is a biohazard. Her employer though, would be required to provide the specific training for proper handling of bloodborne pathogens as well as provide all proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

To a broader point to the text of your email, I would add this. In these 24 years of training on OSHA, I have never been presented the quandry I now find to be true. For the past three years of the current administration the enforcement desires and abilities have been dramatically reduced. The agency has been headed by an “acting” director, not appointed nor vetted by congressional oversight. The budget and staffing are roughly one quarter what they were under the previous administration. Inspections, citations and fines are proportionally reduced, and subsequently workplace injuries and fatalities are increased.

The Covid 19 crisis may also have brought the death blow to OSHA. The Trump Administration released guidelines through both OSHA and CDC that businesses would be “encouraged” to use proper PPE and procedures in dealing with employee exposures, but there would be no consequences if they chose not to.

In my years of training I don’t believe I have ever used the term “encouraged.”  The OSHA standards are Federal Law. The retribution for not following those laws can be large fines or imprisonment. Even under that incredible threat, thousands of businesses were cited each year for non compliance. I can only imagine the attitudes when that threat is reduced or eliminated. I trust that many business owners are of high integrity and will do what is right to ensure their workers safety, but not all. Then what happens when your competition gains an edge by not following the “guidelines.”  The proverbial slippery slope.

I have not conducted an OSHA seminar since the beginning of the Covid crisis. I question whether I ever will again. I had entered semi retirement before anyway, so am not terribly bothered with the prospect. But I fear for the American worker.

In a depressed job market how willing should any employee be to refuse an assigned task by any employer. There was a time not long ago that the government had your back, there was recourse. What would I advise people now? –Bob Byers,Customized Training & Development LLC
I close with my signature Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Please continue to encourage your daughter as her career develop to seek solid information and to have the courage to do what is best for her health, her coworkers,  and for that of the place in which she works. –William Gorden