OSHA Increases Focus on COVID-19 Workplace Risks

HR & Safety

OSHA has launched a program designed to protect high-risk workers from exposure to COVID-19, including expanding its inspection and enforcement efforts.

The agency said the new COVID-19 National Emphasis Program will enhance previous coronavirus enforcement efforts and include some follow-up inspections of worksites inspected in 2020.

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

“The program will remain in effect for up to one year from its issuance date, though OSHA has the flexibility to amend or cancel the program as the pandemic subsides.”

The program will also focus on employers who retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy working conditions, or for exercising other rights protected by law, OSHA said.

State Requirements

“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, the principal deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

OSHA said it’s aware that states have adopted varying requirements to protect employees from coronavirus, and that many have implemented enforcement programs similar to this new emphasis program.

The agency is strongly encouraging states that have not stepped up efforts to protect employees to adopt this emphasis program.

OSHA is encouraging states that have not stepped up efforts to protect employees to adopt this emphasis program.

States that decide to do this must notify OSHA of their intent to adopt the emphasis program within 60 days of its March 12 issuance.

OSHA has also updated its interim enforcement response plan to prioritize on-site workplace inspections where practical, or use a combination of on-site and remote inspection methods.

OSHA said it will only use remote-only inspections if it determines that on-site inspections cannot be done safely.

Inspection Protocols

OSHA on March 18, 2021 rescinded a memorandum it issued May 26, 2020 on inspections. The new guidance will remain in effect until further notice.

“OSHA will ensure that its compliance safety and health officers have every protection necessary for onsite inspections,” the agency said.

This includes evaluating all risks and using appropriate protective measures when doing on-site inspections, OSHA said.

OSHA will minimize in-person meetings and encourage employers to provide documents and other data electronically.

OSHA said its goal is to identify exposures to COVID-19 hazards, ensure that appropriate control measures are implemented, and address violations of OSHA standards and its General Duty Clause.

The agency will use phone and video conferencing, instead of face-to-face employee interviews, to reduce potential exposure. In-person interviews will be done when necessary and if there is no risk.

OSHA will also minimize in-person meetings with employers and encourage employers to provide documents and other data electronically to inspectors.

For more information, contact CBIA’s Phillip Montgomery (860.244.1982).


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