- OSHA has introduced a new National Emphasis Program aimed at companies that put the largest numbers of workers at risk for exposure to the coronavirus. The new initiative is in response to President Joe Biden's Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety.
- As part of the program, the agency will also focus on employers that retaliate against workers who lodge complaints related to jobsite safety and perform follow-up inspections on worksites that were inspected in 2020 to ensure effectiveness of OSHA efforts. OSHA will target certain employers as part of the program, including those that engage in heavy and civil engineering construction and specialty trade contracting.
- The program, which is slated to last one year but could be extended if necessary, will prioritize onsite inspections, thereby rescinding the order OSHA issued in May. OSHA will visit jobsites unless it is unsafe to do so.
Even though construction employers are on the list for inspections under the program, area offices can delete employers from that list if they have had previous COVID-19-related inspections in the previous 12 months with the following outcomes:
- Were issued serious citations related to COVID-19 hazards and those citations are under contest or the abatement period has not yet expired.
- No serious citations were issued for hazards related to exposure to the virus.
- Serious citations were issued for hazards related to exposure to COVID-19, but a follow-up inspection documented appropriate and effective efforts to abate the hazards.
As part of Biden's executive order, OSHA was also directed to perform multilingual outreach in an effort to educate employers about COVID safety, so some employers can expect:
- Letters explaining the program, including information about free, onsite consultation services.
- Education through the agency's partnerships with business organizations and small business development centers.
- Information about the rights of workers and employer responsibilities.
In a report issued earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor's inspector general found that OSHA was not providing the oversight necessary to protect workers from COVID-19. The IG said that complaints to the agency in 2020 increased by 15% but inspections dropped by 50%. The agency accepted the IG's recommendations regarding increasing onsite inspections and remote inspection tracking.
In addition, OSHA is expected to come out with a COVID-19 emergency temporary standard. As part of a presidential proclamation, Biden directed the agency to assess the need for one and then, if OSHA decided it was necessary, to issue the ETS 60 days from the date of the Jan. 20 order, which is March 15.
States have issued standards or other rules related to the coronavirus, and, according to an analysis by Husch Blackwell LLP, they include:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island