OSHA Launches a National Emphasis Program (NEP) in Response to President Biden’s Executive Order on Worker Health and Safety.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the United States, claiming the lives of over 550,000 people. Despite only making up 4% of the global population, as a nation, the US has contributed to 25% of global COVID cases. Although it’s been over a year since the outbreak of the virus, the reality Americans face today is much the same as they continue to struggle with hundreds of thousands of new cases every week and the lives of thousands still being claimed. As part of President Biden’s administration, he has promised to beat COVID-19 and pull the country back on track, signing an Executive Order on worker health and safety within his first days in office. In response to this, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have released a National Emphasis Program (NEP) that will remain in effect for one year which is aimed at protecting high-risk workers from COVID-19 hazards.
How will the NEP be used?
The NEP is designed to reduce or eliminate coronavirus exposure for people that work in high-risk environments. This includes industries such as healthcare, grocery and big box stores, full-service and fast-food restaurants, food and beverage manufacturing, construction and critical manufacturing. The NEP has also been designed to protect employees that report unsafe working conditions in regard to exposure risks with COVID and lack of safety measures such as PPE, social distancing and the likes. Under the NEP, employees are protected from becoming victims of retaliation if they report unsafe working conditions.
To achieve this, OSHA will be completing follow-up inspections of the workplaces that they visited last year and also include places that have received deferred violations, serious violations and other than serious citations. The number of programmed inspections, in general, will also increase. In addition to this, unprogrammed inspections will take place based on complaints and referrals from the media, local health departments, employees, and incident reports. The primary targets remain in the healthcare sector.
What does this mean for employers?
The NEP is first and foremost designed to protect employees from COVID exposure risks and puts the onus on employers to ensure that they are creating safe workplaces that comply with government guidelines. Unprogrammed inspections from referrals mean that employers need to ensure that they are implementing effective health and safety measures at all times with their reporting processes, use of PPE and so on. If not, this comes with hefty financial losses through citations, ranging from $13,653 - $136,532 per offense.
Aside from the health and safety standpoint and financial implications that can come with this, as OSHA will be following up tip-offs, employers need to be aware that if found negligent, then media outlets may name and shame them, putting their reputation at risk too.
With the expected increase of inspections for high-risk covid workplaces, now is a good time for employers to ensure their policies and practices are up to date, meeting the legal requirements should OSHA complete an inspection.
NSC. (2021, March 15). OSHA launches National Emphasis Program on COVID-19, updates enforcement plan. Retrieved from Safety + Health Magazine: https://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/20955-osha-launches-national-emphasis-program-on-covid-19-updates-enforcement-plan
OSHA. (2021, March 12). National Emphasis Program. Retrieved from OSHA: https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/enforcement/directives/DIR_2021-01_CPL-03.pdf
Paul, M. (2021, March 25). OSHA Publishes New National Emphasis Program Targeting COVID-19 Enforcement. Retrieved from The National Law Review: https://www.natlawreview.com/article/osha-publishes-new-national-emphasis-program-targeting-covid-19-enforcement
Spahr, B. (2021, March 16). OSHA Launches a COVID-19 National Emphasis Program. Retrieved from JD Supra: https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/osha-launches-a-covid-19-national-4936622/