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MIOSHA encouraging, but not requiring, businesses to follow new CDC mask guidelines

Portrait of a young female freelancer with mask working in an office while sitting at a table with colleagues in the background.
The state's workplace safety agency is asking employers to adopt mask guidelines to protect workers and customers from COVID-19.

The state’s workplace safety agency is urging businesses to adopt the CDC’s new mask recommendations to help stave off the spread of new COVID-19 variants. But the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration is not issuing an order to require it.

Sean Egan is MIOSHA’s director of workplace safety. He says MIOSHA is not imposing a rule because businesses know more now about avoiding transmission.

“Vaccines are widely available,” he said. “A significant portion of the workforce and our population is fully vaccinated, so it’s a much different scenario than we were facing last fall.”

He said businesses are better able now to create tailored plans that fit the needs and desires of employees and customers.

“If an employer can maintain social distance, maybe they have plastic barriers, maybe in that setting, masking’s not that urgent,” he said.

That’s the right approach, said Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

“I think that it’s important that when guidelines and advice come out that they remain guidelines and advice and that business owners still maintain the autonomy to fit the solutions to their own operations,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean employers are off the hook if they fail to ensure their businesses are safe -- and that includes making adjustments to deal with the newer COVID variants.

“Where employees are going to be closer than six feet together, certainly the employer’s obligated by law to provide a safe workplace free from recognized hazards,” said Egan. “COVID’s clearly a hazard.”

He said the agency can still fine businesses that fail to provide a safe workplace environment without issuing a specific mask rule. Fines can run into thousands of dollars for individual violations.

At the same time, state government employees could soon be required to mask up on the job. Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration is expected to formally issue that new instruction soon.

“Based on MIOSHA’s advisory, we anticipate revising the State of Michigan employee policy on face coverings to more closely align with the CDC’s recommendation,” said Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy.

Rick Pluta is the Capitol Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He is heard daily on WCMU's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.