At the beginning of the year, President Biden signed an executive order ordering the Department of Labor to launch a nationwide program to direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to make enforcement efforts related to Covid-19 on high-risk conditions that could potentially expose a large number of workers to situations where the virus can spread more easily. Additionally, there are enforcement efforts on employers who retaliate when employees complain about unsafe work conditions.
On Mach 21, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a National Emphasis Program that targets high hazard industries or activities where the risk of contracting COVID-19 is extremely high. Additionally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released an updated interim Enforcement Response Plan for Covid-19. The Enforcement Response Plan provides optimal instructions and guidance to Area Offices and Compliance Safety and Health Officers (“CSHOs”) for being responsible for COVID-19 related complaints, referrals, and any severe illness reports.
The goal is to dramatically reduce or eliminate worker exposure to COVID-19 by targeting the industries and worksites where employers put employees in areas with high frequencies of exposure and close contact. This goal will be accomplished by a combination of inspection targeting, reaching out to employers, and working with compliance. The National Emphasis Program has issued a list of industries that they plan on targeting for inspection.
For healthcare employers, the National Emphasis Program plans to target physicians and dental officers, home health care services, ambulance services, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living, and continuing care at retirement facilities.
For non-healthcare industries that the National Emphasis plans to target are meat and poultry processing plants, grocery stores, discount department stores, restaurants, general warehousing and storage areas, correctional facilities, and temporary help services.
In addition to healthcare and non-healthcare industry inspections, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will prioritize inspecting fatalities, complaints, and referrals based on allegations of worker exposures to COVID-19 as a result of below standard controls and other exposures to confirmed or suspected cases and/or symptoms. While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration continues to develop an emergency temporary standard in regard to COVID-19, the National Emphasis Program has already begun issuing one. The National Emphasis Program has started its target inspecting on March 26, 2021. As the targeting has begun, employers who fall within the targeted industries should review the National Emphasis Program and Enforcement Response Plan to make sure that they understand the new targeting priorities as well as any other details on how COVID-19 related inspections will be conducted and handled. They should also review the Occupational Safety and Health Administration logs and safety records in order to identify any COVID-19 related issues prior to inspections taking place.