The anomaly that is the OSHA-based vaccine mandate

For my forty years working in manufacturing, OSHA has been protecting my safety.  The rules are vast and cover almost every aspect of how employees may be hurt or injured in the course of their jobs.  The vaccine mandate appears to be just another new rule to protect safety, but it crosses several new, and unacceptable, boundaries.  The things I must do to protect myself as defined by OSHA are mostly logical and backed by extensive testing; not so the vaccine mandate.

Almost all factories are noisy, so OSHA requires hearing protection for people working in noisy environments.  The standard is variable based on the level of exposure.  Manufacturers must extensively test the approved devices for hearing protection and prove that the devices provide the level of protection the OSHA standard defines.  OSHA requires tests to determine the noise level employees are exposed to when using equipment calibrated to government standards.  And OSHA requires the employees to be trained to use hearing protection and take regular hearing tests.  All of this is mandated, and employers cover all costs.

Here is just one example from the OSHA Reg. 1910.95(c)(1):

The employer shall administer a continuing, effective hearing conservation program, as described in paragraphs (c) through (o) of this section, whenever employee noise exposures equal or exceed an 8-hour time-weighted average sound level (TWA) of 85 decibels measured on the A scale (slow response) or, equivalently, a dose of fifty percent. For purposes of the hearing conservation program, employee noise exposures shall be computed in accordance with appendix A and Table G-16a, and without regard to any attenuation provided by the use of personal protective equipment.

This is just one paragraph in a very long standard for a single hazard.  There is no ambiguity, and everything is defined to known standards.

The standards serve a purpose that has proven valuable.  It is no longer common for people who worked around high noise levels to retire with severe hearing loss from the exposure.

When a site has dangers from falling objects, some sort of hard hat is required.  OSHA defines those areas that present a hazard.  It defines acceptable protection.  As with everything else, OSHA requires inspections and training.  Crane operators moving heavy overhead loads are required to wear hard hats.  If they drop the load, that hat will be useless.  The hats are for loose parts that may fall off the load.  It is a reasonable precaution.


Image: Construction worker.  Public domain.

I wear earmuffs to protect my hearing, safety glasses to protect my eyes, steel-toed shoes, and a hard hat.  Everyone who has ever worked around these hazards understands that a documented danger exists and takes the necessary step to prevent injuries.

As with ear protection, all personal protection devices go through extensive testing to make certain that they provide the promised protection.  Manufacturers must show this testing, and if the device has significant failures, it cannot be used.  By contrast, the vaccines haven't gone through the detailed testing with documented numerical results that is required for something as simple as hearing protection devices.

Not only does OSHA's vaccine mandate fail to meet these logical procedures, but there's also one specific, important difference that transcends testing: at the end of the day, I can take off the earmuffs, the safety shoes, and any other personal protection equipment I am required to wear.  At no time does OSHA require that employees make changes to their bodies for safety.  It requires protection for the bodies people have.  What they wear for protection is never mandated for 24/7 use.

Some people have physical characteristics that make injury more likely.  Long hair can become tangled in machines, so OSHA requires that long hair be restrained; it does not require the hair to be cut.  People who are not strong get lift assist devices.  Short people get steps.  The solutions to every workplace hazard are engineered solutions to make the person safer.  They never seek to modify the person.  Except for the vaccine.

There are no tests to measure exposure in the mandates.  There are no standards for the level of exposure that constitutes a danger.  There are no follow-up requirements to determine if the protection is effective to reduce the danger.  Every other OSHA requirement includes these and often more.  This new requirement is inconsistent with OSHA's own requirements for everything else.

The only similarity between regular OSHA rules and the vaccine mandate is that an employee can be terminated for refusing to follow "safety" rules.  The fines and penalties will guarantee that this will be enforced as part of the mandate.

This is clearly a politicization of the regulatory process to force what the president cannot do under the Constitution.  OSHA has taken criticism for regulatory excesses, and some of it is deserved.  Even in those cases, OSHA presented its evidence and the testing required.  If not science, at least it was accepted engineering practice.  This is neither science nor engineering.  This is pure politics.

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