March 18, 2021

OSHA Establishes National Emphasis Program to Reduce Coronavirus Exposures

An OSHA directive (PDF) that went into effect on March 12 describes policies and procedures for implementing a new National Emphasis Program to reduce coronavirus exposures among workers in industries or who perform tasks that put them at high risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2. As part of the NEP, OSHA will target workplaces that put the largest number of workers at significant risk. The NEP formalizes components for programmed and follow-up inspections in workplaces where COVID-19-related hazards are prevalent, the agency’s directive explains. In addition to inspection targeting, the new program comprises agency outreach to employers and compliance assistance. OSHA also intends to focus on protecting from retaliation workers who report unsafe or unhealthy conditions.

According to OSHA, the agency will continue to conduct unprogrammed inspections related to COVID-19 at workplaces where employees have a “high frequency of close-contact exposures.” Based on current enforcement data, OSHA expects that the majority of these inspections will continue to occur in general industry, especially at healthcare work sites.

OSHA acknowledges in its press release that many state plans have already implemented similar enforcement programs to protect employees from COVID-19. State plans are not required to adopt the new NEP, but OSHA “strongly encourages” that they do. According to the agency, state plans are required to notify federal OSHA within 60 days of the NEP’s issuance whether they already have a “substantially similar” policy in place, intend to adopt new policies based on the NEP, or do not intend to adopt the program. OSHA will summarize these responses on a webpage where it collects information related to state plan adoption of federal OSHA standards and directives.

Further details are available from OSHA’s press release. The full agency directive is available as a PDF.