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Federal workplace safety focus of legislative effort in Congress

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Legislation requiring federal agencies to establish and publish COVID-19 workplace protections has passed in the House.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) has introduced the Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act, named after a Virginia federal worker who passed away from COVID-19 complications.

Congressman Gerry Connolly introduced a similarly named bill that passed the House this week.

The legislation would compel each federal agency to create and post concrete reopening plans online, at least 30 days prior to the return of federal employees.

Joining Sen. Warner in introducing this legislation are Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

“Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, federal employees have been hard at work to preserve essential government functions and ensure that the American people can continue to count on their government for vital guidance and assistance when they need it the most. However, this work should never come at the expense of workers’ lives, as was the case for Chai Suthammanont, a public servant from Virginia who passed from COVID-19 complications,” said Warner. “As public servants transition from remote to in-person work, the least we can do is avoid another tragedy and make sure that folks can return to a safe work environment. That’s why I introduced this legislation requiring federal agencies to publish their policies and procedures online, where federal workers and their families can access them before returning to work.”

“I want to thank Sen. Warner for his work to protect the health and safety of our federal workforce. Chai was committed to his community, and for that, he gave up his life. Our bill will ensure federal employees have the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding their agencies’ reopening plans. We owe that to Chai and his family,” Connolly said.

According to this legislation, any federal agency reopening plan must include information on:

  • The personal protective equipment (PPE) provided to employees
  • Additional cleaning protocols to be implemented by the agency
  • Efforts to ensure social distancing at worksites
  • Agency measures or efforts to protect employees who work outside of federal office buildings, such as auditors or inspectors
  • Safety and health requirements for members of the public visiting federal facilities
  • Contingency options for workers at high risk of contracting COVID-19
  • Efforts to ensure continuity of agency operations, including contingency plans should there be a surge in COVID-19 cases

In addition to requiring federal agencies to publish their reopening plans online, the legislation would require each agency’s Inspector General to submit a timely review on whether that agency has provided adequate PPE for employees and whether it has complied with this legislation by publishing COVID-19 safety policies and procedures.

This bill has been endorsed by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), and the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA).

Bill text is available here.

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augusta free press news