In response to President Biden’s executive order on protecting worker health and safety, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched a national emphasis program (NEP) focusing enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

The program also seeks to protect workers from retaliation against employees who complain about unsafe or unhealthful conditions or exercise other rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Specifically, OSHA will attempt to prevent retaliation where possible, distribute anti-retaliation information during inspections, engage in outreach, and promptly refer allegations of retaliation to the Whistleblower Protection Program.

In light of this new NEP, businesses should review their procedures to ensure they comply with OSHA regulations. NEP inspections will augment OSHA’s previous coronavirus enforcement efforts. The inspections will be conducted at new worksites and include some follow-up inspections of worksites last visited in 2020. The program will remain in effect for up to one year, although it could be amended or canceled based on the course of the pandemic.

In addition, the agency said it has updated its Interim Enforcement Response Plan to prioritize the use of on-site workplace inspections where practical, or a combination of on-site and remote methods. Remote-only inspections will only be conducted if the agency determines that on-site inspections cannot be conducted safely. 

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the Act), employers must provide safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. 

NEP Program Goal and Procedures

According to OSHA, the goal of the NEP is to significantly reduce or eliminate worker exposures to COVID-19 by targeting industries and worksites where employees may frequently be exposed to the virus. OSHA will accomplish this goal through a combination of inspection targeted inspections, outreach to employers, and compliance assistance. 

OSHA anticipates that most of its inspections will continue to occur in certain industries, particularly healthcare, based on current enforcement data showing higher COVID-19-related complaints, referrals, and severe incident reports at healthcare worksites. To ensure abatement and to monitor the effectiveness of enforcement and guidance efforts, certain follow-up inspections from worksites previously inspected for COVID-19-related hazards will be included as part of the targeting strategy.

Targeted audiences for OSHA outreach efforts include:

– Employers in high-hazard industries

– Worker groups and unions

– Employer associations such as local chambers of commerce

– Insurance companies

– Hospitals, occupational health clinics, and other health organizations 

– Professional associations such as local safety councils and dental or medical groups

– Temporary employment agencies providing employees to targeted employers 

– Newspapers, TV stations, and trade magazines that can help inform the public and hard-to-reach employers

– Local government departments such as health departments, departments of correction, and departments of transportation

– Suppliers of materials or services

– Equipment transportation companies

OSHA’s outreach activities under the NEP may include, for example:

– Producing letters and news releases announcing the implementation of the NEP, including information about no-cost OnSite Consultation services available to small businesses

– Conducting seminars on COVID-19-related topics that are tailored for specific audiences, such as employers, employee groups, and unions in industries like healthcare, meat and poultry, and correctional institutions

– Disseminating information on the NEP and sharing successes and technical information on effective ways to reduce or eliminate worker exposure to COVID-19

– Forming new working relationships with organizations that can help disseminate information to small businesses and other employers

Whistleblower Protections

President Biden’s Jan. 21, 2021, Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety directs OSHA to focus its enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 on: 

– Violations that put the largest number of workers at increased potential exposures to COVID-19 

– Employers that engage in retaliation against employees who complain about unsafe or unhealthful conditions or exercise other rights under the Act 

As a result, the NEP focuses on ensuring that workers are protected from retaliation through information sharing and prompt referrals. Workers requesting inspections, complaining of COVID-19 exposure, or reporting injuries or illnesses or retaliation, may be covered under one or more whistleblower protection statutes. 

Contact Counxel Legal Firm

If you would like to learn more about OSHA reporting or compliance, contact Counxel Legal Firm at 480-536-6122 or at intake@wordpress-457010-3165254.cloudwaysapps.com

This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice for your specific situation. Use of and access to this article does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Counxel Legal Firm. Please contact intake@wordpress-457010-3165254.cloudwaysapps.com or 480-536-6122 to request specific information for your situation.

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