On March 12, OSHA issued a Direction, effective immediately, which describes policies and procedures for its implementation of a National Emphasis Program (NEP). A NEP is a temporary enforcement initiative with the stated purpose of ensuring “that employees in high hazard industries or work tasks are protected from the hazard of contracting” COVID-19. The Direction states that the NEP is intended to “add a component to target specific high-hazard industries or activities where this hazard is prevalent.” Those industries that are the focus of the NEP include, but are not limited to:
- Home health care services;
- Ambulance services;
- Hospitals (including general, surgical, psychiatric and substance abuse, and specialty);
- Skilled nursing facilities;
- Assisted living and continued care retirement communities;
- Supermarkets and other grocery stores (except convenience stores);
- Discount department stores;
- Full-service and limited-service restaurants;
- Food processing (i.e. poultry, animal)
- Critical manufacturing, including paper, chemicals, plastics, and metals.
The NEP also says it has an added focus “to ensure that workers are protected from retaliation and are accomplishing this by preventing retaliation where possible, distributing anti-retaliation information during inspections and outreach opportunities, as well as promptly referring allegations of retaliation to the Whistleblower Protection Program.”
The Direction says that OSHA’s Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan will remain in effect unless otherwise superseded by another OSHA directive or updated pursuant to an emergency temporary standard through a Presidential Executive Order. This new NEP is intended to “enhance” OSHA’s emphasis on COVID-19-related hazards by instituting a program for workplace inspections for those industries listed above where employees “have a high frequency of close contact exposures and where this hazard is prevalent.”
The Direction “reaffirms” that OSHA will rely predominantly on on-site (in person) inspections and that remote inspections will be reserved for limited circumstances.
The Direction was dated March 12 and is effective immediately, although it later says that while OSHA may begin to initial inspections on the effective date, targeting should begin at least two weeks after the date of issuance.
Employers are strongly advised to read through the Direction, found at www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/enforcement/directives, and of course, we will continue to provide updates.