The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration appears to be losing interest in issuing temporary emergency regulations related to COVID-19 safety practices. Changing science and diminishing infection rates due to vaccinations have lessened the usefulness and need for a comprehensive nationwide workplace standard. As an alternative, OSHA is focusing its enforcement efforts on industries that are the source of employee complaints and concerns over infection control compliance.
On March 12, OSHA announced and Interim Enforcement Response Plan for COVID-19. Instead of applying a specific COVID-19 regulation, OSHA is using the "General Duty Clause" and existing respirator standard to inspect and potentially cite businesses that are the subjects of high rates of employee complaints and/or suspected sources of workplace COVID-19 transmission. To date, most of OSHA’s enforcement efforts have involved the healthcare industry, including hospitals and long-term or other residential care facilities. Depending on the area of the U.S. and OSHA district office involved, health care employers, meat processors and a few other types of businesses have received numerous citations and penalties.
Other businesses may be next in line for special emphasis inspections. As state indoor dining restrictions continue to loosen, OSHA may conduct inspections to determine whether COVID-19 safety protocols remain in place. These include personal protective equipment, sanitation procedures, and recording and reporting of suspected workplace transmission of COVID-19 infections. Increasing travel may also result in extension of such inspections to hotel and other hospitality industry employers.
In addition to the federal OSHA effort, states such as California, Virginia, Michigan and Oregon continue to enforce their own state COVID-19 safety regulations. Employers in all states should fight COVID-19 fatigue by continuing to enforce their own internal requirements.