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OSHA Launches National Emphasis Program on COVID-19, Updates Enforcement Plan

OSHA has launched a National Emphasis Program on COVID-19 that focuses enforcement efforts “on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus,” in response to an Executive Order from President Joe Biden.

The Executive Order, signed Jan. 21, directs OSHA to consider an emergency temporary standard related to COVID-19 and, if determined to be necessary, issue it by March 15. At press time, OSHA had made no announcement about an ETS.

According to a March 12 press release from OSHA, the NEP also “prioritizes employers that retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or healthy conditions, or for exercising other rights protected by federal law.”

The NEP, which includes follow-ups to workplace inspections that took place last year, went into effect March 12 and is slated to remain so for up to a year.

“The program’s focused strategy ensures abatement and includes monitoring the effectiveness of OSHA’s enforcement and guidance efforts,” the release states.

“With more people being vaccinated and the number of infections trending down, we know there is light at the end of the tunnel,” acting OSHA administrator Jim Frederick said in the release. “But until we are past this pandemic, workers deserve a Labor Department that is looking out for their health.”

Some State Plans have adopted similar enforcement programs, OSHA notes, and although implementation of the NEP isn’t required, those that haven’t are strongly encouraged to implement the NEP. State Plans must inform the agency about their intention to adopt the NEP within 60 days.

OSHA also is attempting to prioritize onsite workplace inspections “where practical,” or use a combination of onsite and remote methods, as part of its updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan.

The updated plan is scheduled to go into effect March 18 and remain so until further notice. The plan rescinds enforcement guidance issued May 26.

“OSHA will only use remote-only inspections if the agency determines that onsite inspections cannot be performed safely,” the release states. “OSHA will ensure that its compliance safety and health officers have every protection necessary for onsite inspections.

“When conducting onsite inspections, OSHA will evaluate all risk and utilize appropriate protective measures, including appropriate respiratory protection and other necessary personal protective equipment.”

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