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McMaster says state will fight if federal government takes over enforcing South Carolina workplace safety

Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 11:56 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 20, 2021 at 8:01 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The federal government is warning South Carolina that it may take over enforcing workplace safety across the state, and Gov. Henry McMaster responded that the state will fight any attempt to do so.

By default, this regulation is the job of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but OSHA does allow states, including South Carolina, to enforce their own workplace safety plans if they are up to par with the federal government’s.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick said Tuesday that South Carolina is one of three states, along with Arizona and Utah, that have failed to update their emergency COVID workplace rules for healthcare workers to be in line with the federal government’s standards. All three states are under Republican leadership.

“The agency will not hesitate to use all of its resources to protect workers from known health hazards,” Frederick said on a conference call with reporters. According to the Department of Labor, South Carolina receives more than $2.3 million through its state OSHA plan to administer and enforce it.

In June, OSHA issued an emergency temporary standard for workplaces where employees provide healthcare, including skilled nursing homes and home healthcare, requiring these rules to be put into place and mandating states that regulate their own workplace safety must adopt them or similar rules that are “at least as effective” as the new standard.

Under the standard, healthcare facilities must require safety measures including social distancing and personal protective equipment and offer paid time off for workers to get vaccinated or if they have COVID, among other mandates.

“The longer South Carolina refuses to adapt emergency temporary standard for healthcare workers, the longer they’re needlessly putting thousands of workers at risk for the spread of coronavirus,” Frederick said.

McMaster called Tuesday’s warning from the federal government “a preemptive strike.”

“With no state regulators in the way, the federal Labor Department will be free to penalize employers who do not comply with President Biden’s unconstitutional vaccine mandate,” the governor tweeted Wednesday morning, referring to expected rules from OSHA on how it will enforce the requirement announced by Biden last month that businesses with 100 or more employees require vaccination or weekly testing. McMaster had previously vowed the state “will fight them to the gates of hell” against the mandate.

“They are going too far. They are overreaching their authority, and we are not going to allow the Biden administration or the national government to violate the constitution,” McMaster said to reporters Wednesday, adding South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson “will be fighting these various types of intrusions into the sovereignty of the state.”

South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation Director Emily Farr said in a statement that South Carolina’s workplace safety plan has been effective, noting the state’s latest injury and illness rate from 2019 of 2.4 cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers was below the national average of 2.8 and saying this rate is “consistently” one of the lowest in the country.

“We are disappointed that Federal OSHA has decided to take this step against our very successful State OSHA program,” Farr said. “Our State plan is built on a foundation of passion and commitment to the safety of the state’s employees as well as a strong partnership with employers, industry and community leaders, and interest groups and associations to ensure the same.”

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