OSHA's COVID-19 National Emphasis Program to Focus on High-Risk Industries
On March 12, 2021, OSHA unveiled its new COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (NEP). The stated purpose of the NEP is to "ensure that employees in high-hazard industries or work tasks are protected from the hazard" of contracting COVID-19. This means OSHA will be paying special attention to high-hazard industries, which include workplaces where employees have a high frequency of close contact exposures. High-hazard industries identified by the NEP include (but aren't limited to):
- Physicians' and dentists' offices
- Home health care services
- Nursing care and assisted living facilities
- Ambulance services
- Grocery stores
- Meat and poultry processing facilities
- General warehousing and storage
- Certain manufacturing industries (such as food and beverage, paper, chemical, plastics and rubber, equipment, and primary and fabricated metal manufacturers)
The central feature of the NEP is to increase programmed inspections of these high-hazard workplaces. Of course, OSHA will continue to perform unannounced inspections, giving the highest priority to workplaces with reported COVID-19 fatalities, and those for which OSHA has received complaints regarding worker exposure to COVID-19 hazards. Follow-up inspections may also be conducted for workplaces that OSHA has already inspected as a result of a COVID-19 fatality. Inspections may be conducted onsite or with remote methods.
The NEP also emphasizes whistleblower protections and OSHA's plans to focus on "ensuring that workers are protected from retaliation" for voicing concerns about COVID-19 hazards in the workplace. Employers, therefore, should be especially careful when taking adverse action against employees who have recently voiced complaints about health and/or safety in the workplace.
If your business is considered a "high-hazard" workplace under the NEP, be prepared for upcoming inspections. Now is a good time to review your current COVID-19 prevention policies, as well as your actual safety practices, and consider whether they ought to be updated or modified. If your business has not already developed and implemented a written COVID-19 prevention program, now is the time to act. As always, your Much Labor & Employment attorneys are available to assist.