ANCHORAGE – Today, during a joint hearing of the House Health and Social Services and House State Affairs committees, lawmakers heard testimony from frontline workers and workplace safety experts who urged the Dunleavy Administration to establish workplace safety standards as organizations across our state navigate the challenges of working during a pandemic.
Alaska Occupational Safety and Health (AKOSH) has the authority to create regulations and guidance ranging from best practices in physical distancing to air flow management in state and public buildings, but so far, these commonsense steps have not occurred.
“I am alarmed by the lack of coordination between the Administration and Alaska Occupational Safety and Health – which sets workplace safety standards for businesses across the state – to issue evidence-based guidance to safely reopen amidst a global pandemic,” said Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky (D-Bethel), chair of the House Health and Social Services Committee. “Businesses need clear, comprehensive standards to ensure Alaska is safely reopening our economy in a way that protects frontline workers and Alaskans who patron local businesses.”
“Both frontline workers and employers need clear and enforceable standards to keep workplaces safe during this pandemic,” added Rep. Zack Fields (D-Anchorage), chair of the House State Affairs Committee. “Alaska should follow actions other states have taken to address workplace safety for state employees and those interfacing regularly with the public.”
The joint hearing included testimony from teachers, hotel workers, and specialists who testified about dangerous working conditions.
Terri Gerstein, Director of the State and Local Enforcement Project under the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program testified about many states which, unlike Alaska, have taken action to ensure safety of both public and private workplaces.
Rebecca Himschoot, an English as a Second Language specialist in Sitka, told members of the committees that it is impossible for schools to operate safely without a statewide face covering mandate. Invited testimony included:
- Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka
- Director of Personnel and Labor Relations Kate Sheehan
- Labor Standards and Safety Director Joseph Knowles
- Alaska Occupational Safety and Health Senior Enforcement Officer Brandon Field
- Alaska Occupational Safety and Health Chief of Consultation Elaine Banda
- Statewide Director of IBEW/NECA Apprenticeship Deborah Kelly
- Unite Here Representative Rashad Perry
- Director of the State and Local Enforcement Project, Harvard Labor and Worklife Program, Terri Gerstein
- English as a Second Language Specialist Rebecca Himschoot
- Industrial Hygienist with MDC Consulting and Training, Mark Catlin