On March 12, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a COVID-19 National Emphasis Program focusing enforcement efforts on employers with high frequencies of close employee contact with other people. The program will focus on employers previously investigated in 2020 for alleged violations of OSHA guidelines with respect to COVID-19 prevention measures. This will include long-term care facilities, meatpacking plants, correctional facilities, and other employers that were the subject of 2020 complaints and investigations.
In addition to the previous investigation subjects, federal OSHA investigators will be instructed to review COVID-19 control procedures as a part of all workplace inspections. Companies subject to 2020 inspections that are not re-inspected will receive letters asking about follow-up measures, and in most cases, OSHA will expect responses from employers within three to five business days.
The new enforcement program does not apply to states that enforce their own OSHA programs, such as North Carolina and South Carolina. However, the agency said that it expects those states to review the need for additional enforcement efforts over the next 60 days. The special enforcement program will last for one year, although OSHA explained that it may end the efforts at an earlier date if the pandemic subsides.
In addition to the new program, OSHA also released an updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan that details how the agency will handle coronavirus-related complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports. The plan states that OSHA will prioritize COVID-19 complaints or reports that involve an employee fatality or multiple hospitalizations due to workplace exposure to the virus. The agency says that it will conduct on-site COVID-19 reviews of workplaces, as opposed to remote inspections or requests for written responses, unless there is evidence of unreasonable exposure risks for its investigators.
The interim plan and new emphasis program do not impose any new COVID-19 safety requirements. These new enforcement efforts would be in addition to the temporary emergency COVID-19 safety standard OSHA is finalizing in response to complaints over insufficient employer measures.