March 18, 2021

Updated Enforcement Policy Prioritizes On-Site OSHA Inspections

An updated interim enforcement response plan issued by OSHA on March 12 prioritizes the agency’s use of on-site workplace inspections during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A combination of on-site and remote methods may also be used for programmed inspections, inspections related to fatalities potentially related to COVID-19, and inspections following formal complaints of hazardous conditions in workplaces where employees face frequent close-contact exposures. OSHA’s updated strategy replaces previous enforcement guidance from May 2020, which allowed inspections to be initiated remotely in cases where resources were “insufficient to allow for on-site inspections” in areas with sustained elevated community transmission of COVID-19 or areas experiencing a resurgence in community spread. Under OSHA’s new guidance, area directors will approve remote-only inspections under limited circumstances in which on-site inspections cannot be performed safely. The new guidance will remain in effect until further notice.

OSHA’s updated enforcement policy was issued on the same day as an agency directive (PDF) describing policies and procedures for implementing a new National Emphasis Program to reduce coronavirus exposures among workers in industries that put them at high risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2. In keeping with the NEP, OSHA’s new guidance prioritizes inspections that involve deaths or multiple hospitalizations due to occupational exposures to COVID-19.

OSHA’s updated guidance helps address concerns related to COVID-19 inspections discussed in a report issued on Feb. 25 by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Office of Inspector General. According to the report, a surge of work site complaints to OSHA combined with reduced and mostly remote inspections during the pandemic have resulted in increased risk to U.S. workers’ safety. By prioritizing high-risk employers for on-site inspections related to COVID-19, OSHA is addressing one of the report’s recommendations. The Office of Inspector General also recommends that OSHA compare COVID-19 inspections conducted remotely with those performed on site and examine the frequency and timeliness with which hazards are identified and abated. The agency’s updated enforcement guidance instructs compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) to document and use a specific code for entirely remote inspections.

OSHA stresses that it will continue to implement DOL’s COVID-19 workplace safety plan (PDF) to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission to CSHOs during inspections.

View the complete updated interim enforcement response plan on OSHA’s website.