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Tatricia Drake receives a COVID-19 vaccine at North Oaks Medical Center in Hammond, La., August 5, 2021. (Callaghan O’Hare/Reuters)

The Biden administration will rely on workplace whistleblowers to enforce its new vaccine mandate for companies with more than 100 employees, given that the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have nearly enough inspectors to check in on every company impacted by the rule, which will effect an estimated 84 million employees, according to a new report.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans last week issued an injunction temporarily halting the Biden administration’s vaccination requirement for large employers, citing “grave statutory and constitutional issues.” However, if the policy goes into effect — requiring workers to be fully vaccinated by January 4 or be tested weekly and wear a mask on the job — the Associated Press reports that it is concerned employees who will largely be responsible for helping OSHA enforce the mandate.

Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA chief of staff who is a fellow at Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, told the AP that there is “no army of OSHA inspectors that is going to be knocking on employers’ door of even calling them.”

“They’re going to rely on workers and their union representatives to file complaints where the company is totally flouting the law,” she added.

Twenty to 25 percent of OSHA inspections take place in response to a complaint.

“You fill out a form or somebody fills out a form for you,” Berkowitz said. “And that’s all workers have. If OSHA decides not to inspect, that’s it. Or if OSHA inspects but decides not to cite the employer, that’s it. … So it’s a pretty weak law.”

Jim Frederick, the acting chief of OSHA, said the agency will focus on job sites “where workers need assistance to have a safe and healthy workplace.”

“That typically comes through in the form of a complaint,” Frederick added, according to the AP.

While experts say most companies are likely to comply with the vaccine mandate, as they do with other OSHA rules, opponents to the rule have noted that whistleblowers often receive retaliation from their employers and that OSHA offers little protection when that happens.

OSHA was first established 50 years ago to enforce workplace safety and protect workers from a slew of dangers including toxic chemicals, unsafe ladders and cave-ins at construction sites, and has jurisdiction in 29 states. In other states, federally approved workplace safety agencies perform the same job. Some 1,850 inspectors will oversee 130 million workers at 8 million job sites if the rule takes effect.

While companies legally can’t retaliate against workers for raising a health or safety issue or filing an OSHA complaint, “retaliation is rampant,” Berkowitz said.

The Labor Department’s Inspector General last year found that OSHA “needs to improve its handling of whistleblower complaints.”

“When OSHA fails to respond in a timely manner, it could leave workers to suffer emotionally and financially, and may also lead to the erosion of key evidence and witnesses,” the internal watchdog said.

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