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OSHA increasing COVID-19-Related inspections with new National Emphasis Program

3 years, 3 months ago

While many employers anticipated an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) regarding COVID-19 on March 15 per President Biden’s Executive Order, OSHA took an unusual step and launched a COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (NEP) https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/enforcement/directives/DIR_2021-01_CPL-03.pdf on March 12 before issuing the ETS. It is expected that an ETS will be forthcoming, but the only official statement from OSHA is that the agency is “taking the time to get this right.”

NEPs are temporary programs that focus OSHA resources on particular hazards and high-hazard industries. The COVID-19 NEP focuses enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus and is effective immediately. The program also prioritizes employers that retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions, or for exercising other rights protected by federal law. It will include follow-ups to workplace inspections that took place last year.

The program will remain in effect for up to one year, though OSHA has the flexibility to amend or cancel the program as the pandemic changes. It requires that 5% of each OSHA region’s total inspections relate to COVID-19. This would be approximately 1,600 inspections plus those under State Plans.

Some State Plans have already adopted similar NEPs. While it does not require it, OSHA strongly encourages those that have not to adopt this NEP. State Plans must notify federal OSHA of their intention to adopt the NEP within 60 days after its issuance.

In a related action, OSHA also rescinded enforcement guidance issued May 26 and updated its Interim Enforcement Response Plan https://www.osha.gov/memos/2021-03-12/updated-interim-enforcement-response-plan-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19 to prioritize the use of on-site workplace inspections where practical, or a combination of on-site and remote methods. OSHA will only use remote-only inspections if the agency determines that on-site inspections cannot be performed safely. While some thought that the Biden administration would alter the employer-friendly work-relatedness guidance issued last summer, it was not changed.

Industries covered by the NEP

While inspections under the COVID-19 NEP will include some follow-up inspections of worksites previously inspected by OSHA in 2020, it will principally focus on establishments in industries identified on targeting lists OSHA will develop. The directive creates three lists of covered workplaces: high-risk healthcare establishments, high-risk non-healthcare establishments, and supplemental industries for non-healthcare in essential critical infrastructure. The third listing has lower exposure risk characteristics than the first two. Area Offices may also “add establishments to the generated master lists based on information from appropriate sources.” (See the list at the end of this article for specific industries in all three categories or in Appendix A and B at https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/enforcement/directives/DIR_2021-01_CPL-03.pdf in the NEP)

      Unprogrammed COVID-19-related inspections (inspections triggered by fatalities, complaints, or referrals) will be prioritized at worksites where employees have a high frequency of close contact exposures. This will focus on workplaces with high numbers of COVID-19-related complaints or known COVID-19 cases, including correctional facilities, workplaces in critical industries located in communities with increasing rates of COVID-19, and workplaces where workers are in close contact to each other or the public (e.g., meatpacking plants, poultry processing facilities, and grocery stores).

      It’s important to note that there will be no small business (establishments with fewer than 10 workers) exceptions under the NEP. If a site is also on OSHA’s Site-Specific Targeting (SST) list when an inspection is initiated under the NEP, it will have a combined wall-to-wall inspection and COVID-19 inspection. The NEP includes a pre-inspection checklist for compliance officers, which is similar to that used in earlier inspections.

      Until an ETS is established, inspections will cite employers under existing OSHA standards or the general duty clause for COVID-19-related safety hazards. “In the event that OSHA issues an emergency temporary standard, those provisions will take precedence over citations of the general duty clause.”

What employers can do

      Employers can begin by reviewing the complete list of targeted industries to determine if their industry is on the list. If it is, the employer should take steps to ensure it is ready for an unannounced programmed COVID-19-related inspection by reviewing its COVID-19 safety and health procedures and documentation.

Even if an employer is not in a high-risk industry, it makes sense to anticipate and prepare for an ETS related to COVID-19. COVID-19 safety documents, programs, and procedures in light of current CDC and OSHA guidance should be reviewed and updated, as well as compliance with existing OSHA standards that are frequently cited for COVID-related violations (https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/covid-citations-lessons.pdf)

Targeted Healthcare Industries by 2017 NAICS Code:

  1. 621111 Offices of Physicians (except Mental Health Specialists)
  2. 621210 Offices of Dentists
  3. 621610 Home Health Care Services
  4. 621910 Ambulance Services
  5. 622110 General Medical and Surgical Hospitals
  6. 622210 Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals
  7. 622310 Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals
  8. 623110 Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities)
  9. 623210 Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability Facilities
  10. 623311 Continuing Care Retirement Communities
  11. 623312 Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly

Targeted Non-Healthcare Industries by 2017 NAICS Code

  • 311612 Meat Processed from Carcasses
  • 311611 Animal (except Poultry) Slaughtering
  • 311615 Poultry Processing
  • 445110 Supermarkets and Other Grocery (except Convenience) Stores
  • 452112 Discount Department Stores
  • 493110 General Warehousing and Storage
  • 561320 Temporary Help Services*
  • 722511 Full-Service Restaurants
  • 722513 Limited-Service Restaurants
  • 922140 Correctional Institutions

* Establishments within the Temporary Help Services (NAICS 561320) industry should not be automatically included in the targeting list for programmed inspections. Although this industry has been among the top industries with OSHA enforcement activities related to COVID-19, this has primarily occurred where services occurred at host healthcare facilities and other high-hazard workplaces. Therefore, to effectively address SARS-CoV-2 hazards for Temporary Help Services, where OSHA is conducting an inspection for other purposes, a COVID-19-related inspection shall be opened for all hazardous conditions observed in plain view (such as, for example, temporary employees working in high exposure areas without adequate PPE).

Supplemental List of Essential Critical Infrastructure Industries by NAICS Category:

  • 11xxxx Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting
  • 236XXX Construction of Buildings*
  • 237XXX Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction*
  • 238XXX Specialty Trade Contractors*
  • 311xxx Food Manufacturing
  • 3121xx Beverage Manufacturing
  • 321xxx Wood Product Manufacturing
  • 322xxx Paper Manufacturing
  • 32412x Asphalt Paving, Roofing, and Saturated Materials Manufacturing
  • 32419x Other Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing
  • 325xxx Chemical Manufacturing
  • 326xxx Plastics and Rubber Product Manufacturing
  • 327xxx Nonmetallic Mineral Product Manufacturing
  • 331xxx Primary Metal Manufacturing
  • 332xxx Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing
  • 333xxx Industrial Machinery Manufacturing
  • 334xxx Computer and Electronic Product Manufacturing
  • 335xxx Electrical Equipment, Appliance, and Component Manufacturing
  • 336xxx Transportation Equipment Manufacturing*
  • 33711x Wood Kitchen Cabinet and Countertop Manufacturing
  • 3399xx Other Miscellaneous Manufacturing
  • 44422x Nursery, Garden Center, and Farm Supply Stores
  • 445xxx Additional Food and Beverage Stores
  • 4523xx General Merchandise Stores, including Warehouse Clubs and Supercenters
  • 4851xx Urban Transit Systems
  • 4852xx Interurban and Rural Bus Transportation
  • 4854xx School and Employee Bus Transportation
  • 485991 Special Needs Transportation
  • 491xxx Postal Service*
  • 54142x Industrial Design Services
  • 811219 Other Electronic and Precision Equipment Repair and Maintenance
  • 81131x Commercial and Industrial Machinery and Equipment (except Automotive and Electronic) Repair and Maintenance

* For certain industries such as: Postal Services-NAICS 491110, Ship Building and Ship Repairing-NAICS 336611, and Construction-NAICS 236xxx, 237xxx, 238xxx, some of which have had a large number or high rate of COVID-19-related complaints in some communities during 2020, Area Directors should use discretion based on local information about COVID-19-related workplace exposures, to determine whether an industry should be considered in the generating of their master lists of establishments.