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OSHA Releases COVID-19 National Emphasis Program

On March 12, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched a national emphasis program (NEP) for COVID-19. OSHA establishes NEPs when it identifies a need to focus its resources to address hazards and high-hazard industries. This NEP will remain in effect for one year until March 12, 2022, but OSHA can amend or cancel the program as needed.

Prior OSHA guidance primarily addressed mitigating and limiting the spread of COVID-19. This NEP prioritizes the use of OSHA resources to eliminate and control workplace exposure to COVID-19. 

OSHA intends to favor the use of on-site workplace inspections to enforce compliance with this NEP. These inspections will target establishments that have workers with increased potential exposure to COVID-19, and that put the largest number of workers at serious risk.  OSHA has specifically flagged the healthcare industry (e.g., hospitals, home health care, assisted living facilities) and industries where workers are at in increased risk of close contact with one another and the public (e.g., animal processing plants, grocers, restaurants).  A full list of the targeted industries can be found in Appendix A and B of the NEP. However, at its discretion, OSHA will conduct remote inspections if on-site inspections cannot be performed safely. OSHA has updated its interim enforcement response plan to reflect these new areas of focus.

It should be noted that inspections typically are not initiated under an NEP until a 90-day outreach period has been completed.  Because OSHA has been educating employers on methods to keep their workers safe from COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, however, the 90-day outreach period has been met in OSHA’s view.  As a result, enforcement of the NEP may begin as early as two weeks from its effective date.

With the release of this NEP, OSHA has also stated it will focus enforcement efforts on employers that are not making good faith efforts to protect workers. OSHA will use reports of work-related deaths and hospitalizations to allocate enforcement resources. To this end, this NEP encourages workers to raise concerns when they perceive employers are failing to protect them from COVID-19.

State Plans

OSHA recognizes that many OSHA-State plans have already implemented several COVID-19 protections. While OSHA strongly encourages all OSHA-State Plans to adopt this NEP, adoption is not mandatory.  Instead, a State Plan must notify OSHA within 60 days whether it already has a substantially similar policy in place, intends to adopt new policies and procedures, or does not intend to adopt the NEP.

Next Steps for Employers

Employers should familiarize themselves with OSHA’s COVID-19 NEP, implementing all policies, measures and procedures necessary for compliance with OSHA regulations. Employers are encouraged to visit OSHA’s COVID-19 website for guidance on how to comply with workplace safety requirements. 

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