OSHA Publishes New National Emphasis Program Targeting COVID-19 Enforcement

March 18, 2021

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) for COVID-19 that focuses enforcement efforts “on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus.” This NEP is in response to an Executive Order mandated by President Joe Biden on Jan. 21, 2021.

The NEP went into effect March 12, 2021 and will remain in effect for up to a year at the discretion of OSHA.

The goal of the NEP is to target enforcement resources on employers in critical, high-hazard industries or work tasks that have an increased exposure risk to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. OSHA will accomplish its goal of decreasing COVID-19 exposures by increasing targeted, planned/programmed and follow-up inspections in workplaces where employees have a high frequency of close contact exposures and where the hazard is prevalent, and by engaging in employer outreach and compliance assistance. The NEP directs each Region to continue performing a high percentage (at least five percent) of the Region’s total assigned inspection goal, focusing agency resources on exposures in certain critical industries.

High-hazard industries include industries with NAICS codes having the highest number of OSHA-recorded fatalities, complaints, referrals, inspections, and COVID-19-related violations. Healthcare is the primary targeted industry including:

  • Hospitals
  • Health care providers
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Home health care services
  • Ambulance services

OSHA will also target non-health care employers for “workers who maintain critical business operations or would otherwise help to maintain a healthy work environment, and are likely to be at increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.” This includes employers with NAICS codes related to, among other industries:

  • Construction
  • Energy
  • Critical manufacturing
  • Meat and poultry processing
  • Grocery stores
  • Discount department stores
  • General warehousing and storage
  • Restaurants
  • Correctional institutions

All establishments in those categories having one or more workers fall under the NEP.

In response to the NEP, employers should determine whether OSHA considers their industry high-hazard and a target for a programmed on-site COVID-19-related inspection. If so, the employer should consider these steps while preparing for an inspection under the NEP:

  • Reviewing the NEP to understand OSHA’s new targeting priorities, https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/enforcement/directives/DIR_2021-01_CPL-03.pdf

  • Reviewing all exposure control measures they have taken and comparing those measures to those recommended in guidance from OSHA, the CDC, and other public health agencies;

  • Conducting periodic audits to insure that both management and the workforce understand and are following COVID-19-related protocols;

  • Reviewing all OSHA logs and safety records to identify any indications of work-related COVID-19 issues at a particular facility or work site;

  • Reviewing the ERP for details on how OSHA has directed CSHOs to conduct COVID-19-related inspections and considering training on-site safety personnel and managers on the different inspection elements (especially in healthcare operations)—which might be considered a key step to being prepared for both participating in and managing the appropriate scope of any inspection; and

  • Training site management on how to use the opening conference with the CSHO to confirm—or not—that the inspection falls within the reach of the NEP and what prompted the inspection.

If you have specific questions about the new standard or other OSHA-related topics, please reach out to your local Marsh & McLennan Agency representative for assistance.