The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched a national emphasis program (NEP) March 12 in response to President Joe Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety during COVID-19.
The NEP means OSHA will focus enforcement efforts in the coming months on coronavirus-related inspections. In a press release announcing the NEP, the agency made clear it will prioritize companies that put the largest numbers of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus and employers that retaliate against workers who exercise rights protected by federal law or make complaints about unsafe or unhealth conditions.
“This deadly pandemic has taken a staggering toll on U.S. workers and their families. We have a moral obligation to do what we can to protect workers, especially for the many who have no other protection,” said Jim Frederick, principal deputy assistant secretary of labor in a statement. “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.”
NEP inspections will enhance the agency’s previous coronavirus enforcement efforts and will 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. The program will remain in effect for up to one year, though OSHA has the flexibility to amend or cancel the program as the pandemic subsides.
OSHA has also updated its Interim Enforcement Response Plan to prioritize and detailed the use of on-site and remote workplace inspections. This guidance goes into effect March 18, 2021, until further notice and rescinds the memorandum from May 26, 2020.