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

  • Published
  • 15 March 2021
  • Category
  • News

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched a national emphasis program (NEP) to focus enforcement efforts on companies that put workers at serious risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The program also targets employers who have reportedly retaliated against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions, or for exercising other rights protected by federal law.

In a related action, OSHA updated its Interim Enforcement Response Plan to prioritize the use of onsite workplace inspections, where practical, or a combination of onsite and remote methods. OSHA will use remote-only inspections when it determines that onsite inspections cannot be safely performed. On March 18, 2021, OSHA will rescind a May 26, 2020, memorandum on this topic and its new guidance will go into effect until further notice.

OSHA state plans have varying employee protection requirements. States without an emphasis program are encouraged to adopt the federal NEP. States with their own health and safety agencies are expected to notify federal OSHA of their intention to adopt the NEP within 60 days. Some worksites inspected in 2020 will be revisited. The program includes monitoring the effectiveness of OSHA’s enforcement and guidance efforts. It will remain in effect for up to one year.

“This program seeks to substantially reduce or eliminate coronavirus exposure for workers in companies where risks are high, and to protect workers who raise concerns that their employer is failing to protect them from the risks of exposure,” said Jim Frederick, principal deputy assistant secretary at OSHA. “With more people being vaccinated and the number of infections trending down, we know there is light at the end of the tunnel. But until we are past this pandemic workers deserve a Labor Department that is looking out for their health.”

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