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Michigan labor and safety officials issue emergency COVID-19 rules for workplaces

Ford Truck Plant workers with PPE
Ford Motor Company

Emergency rules have been issued by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) that clarify what employers have to do to help protect workers, customers and communities from the spread of COVID-19. 

MIOSHA is a division of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO).

The emergency rules are similar to previous executive orders of Governor Gretchen Whitmer that were invalidated by the Michigan Supreme Court earlier this month. The authority for the new rules is not based on the statute the Supreme Court found unconstitutional.

"For those employers that have been doing the right things in their workplaces and making good faith efforts to comply, they're going to see a smooth transition with this rule set for the obligations that they were being held to prior," said Sean Egan, COVID-19 workplace safety director and deputy director of LEO. 

Under the emergency rules, employers that resume in-person work must have a written COVID-19 preparedness and response plan.  They must also have cleaning protocols, monitor workers' health, and provide personal protection equipment. 

The rules require that employers have a policy prohibiting in-person work for employees whose responsibilities can feasibly be completed remotely.

The rules apply to all businesses and have additional special requirements for specific industries like manufacturing, retail, health care, restaurants, bars, and others.

"Our entire goal is to help businesses get open and stay open." Egan said. "So one of the keys to staying open is that we have to contain COVID, and these are the ways that we can do that within our workplace."

Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, credited Whitmer's COVID workplace orders with saving lives and said Republican legislators "need to step up and finally realize that we actually have a health crisis going on."

"Frontline workers and workers all across this state all through this crisis have told me what they're worried most about is going into work, catching the virus, and taking it home to their family members," said Bieber. "The governor stepped up when we were in big trouble early last spring and took decisive action to make workers safe. Those executive orders were struck down, and she's done it again by issuing these emergency orders through MIOSHA. So workers appreciate it. They're scared."

Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan, said he welcomes the emergency rules as what he called "the first step in the regular workplace safety and standards rule promulgation process," which he said offers greater transparency and accountability.

"There are several things [in the emergency rules] I think need to be adjusted somewhat or at least clarified," said Calley. "With that caveat, the use of the regular MIOSHA rule-making process to establish consistent and predictable expectations for the workplace is something that I think will be embraced by most employers."

The emergency rules will be in effect for six months.

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Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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