Michigan breathed a collective sigh of relief last week as our state met the first milestone in the ‘MI Vacc to Normal’ plan, tying reopening to vaccination targets. With at least 55 percent of Michiganders having received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, in-person work is anticipated to resume across all employment sectors on May 24.
In addition, we received more good news with the recommendation for the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in adolescents 12 years of age and older.
As regional business advocates, we’re cautiously optimistic that we are on the pathway to a full reopening. But, unfortunately, while discussing vaccination rates and reopening, we have been navigating a significant complication: the potential prospect of permanent Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration workplace rules.
In October of 2020, MIOSHA put into place emergency rules, implementing workplace safeguards for businesses. Notably, these rules contain a requirement that employers create a policy prohibiting in-person work for employees to the extent that their work activities can feasibly be completed remotely.
These rules were set to expire mid-April, and through the Reopen Michigan Safely Coalition, the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance and Traverse Connect advocated against their extension. However, despite these collective efforts, the rules were extended without any changes or clarifications for another six months until Oct. 14, 2021.
Beyond the emergency rules, MIOSHA filed revised permanent workplace rules in mid-April, in part because “[…] Michigan’s experience with COVID-19 demonstrates that the disease can spread rapidly without protective measures and standards in place.” MIOSHA’s impact statement includes that Virginia is the only state that has permanent COVID-19 workplace safety standards. The proposed permanent rules would extend many of MIOSHA’s emergency rules and make Michigan an outlier.
As the world reopens, these permanent MIOSHA rules continue to lose their relevancy. In response to the May 13 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcement that fully vaccinated individuals could resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services lifted the indoor mask requirement for fully vaccinated individuals. It is also anticipated that after July 1, the broad indoor mask mandate will expire.
The easing of mask requirements for vaccinated individuals, while an indication we are moving in the right direction, conflicts with the current MIOSHA emergency rules in place and the proposed MIOSHA permanent rules.
Businesses operate under MIOSHA, and these standards remain unchanged as the workweek begins, forcing them into an uncomfortable position navigating the inconsistency between the state epidemic order versus MIOSHA emergency rules.
With four major announcements last week touting our COVID-19 recovery, it certainly appears that we are addressing an improving and fluid situation with a permanent and stagnant solution. In addition to the proposed MIOSHA rules lacking flexibility and not reflecting the current recovery landscape, they also do not have a clear sunset. This means there is no guarantee that the rules would be lifted after any epidemic order ends.
Here in northern Michigan, we have pulled together to address the needs of our community and make vaccines widely available, and we know this pandemic will end.
We understand the importance of shopping locally and ordering delivery and takeout. We now have the opportunity to provide businesses with clarity by opposing the MIOSHA permanent rules.
Businesses and interested individuals looking to submit written testimony for the upcoming May 26 rules hearing may visit traverseconnect.com for more information.
Kirstie Sieloff is Director of Government Relations for Traverse Connect and the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance.