On March 12, 2021 OSHA released a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) describing areas of emphasis for OSHA inspectors when reviewing COVID-19 hazards in the workplace. OSHA’s stated purpose for issuing this is to help reduce or eliminate exposures to the virus and employers should apply it accordingly.
Through the NEP OSHA has set a goal that each regional office devote 5% of their annual inspections to COVID-19 inspections and that these inspections target establishments that have workers with increased potential exposure to COVID-19 and that put the largest number of workers at risk. Facilities that have experienced COVID-19 related fatalities will receive priority for follow-up inspections followed by facilities that have had previous COVID-19 related violations and complaints. OSHA has also identified specific industries as requiring greater focus: the healthcare industry and industries where workers are at an increased risk of close contact with on another and the general public such as animal processing plants, grocers, and restaurants.
In this NEP OSHA has decided to do away with the usual 90-day outreach period before initiating inspections under a new NEP since it has already been educating employers on methods to keep workers safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. OSHA will instead begin enforcement under this NEP as early as two weeks from its effective date.
States with OSHA-state plans are not required to adopt this NEP even though OSHA is strongly encouraging them to. However, a state OSHA must notify OSHA within 60 days after the effective date of this NEP to inform them that they already have a substantially similar policy in place, intends to adopt new polices and procedures, or does not intend to adopt the NEP.
The NEP expires 12 months from the effective date of March 12, 2021 if OSHA chooses not to extend it.
Sources:OSHA Direction, National Emphasis Program – Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), March 12, 2021.
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