OSHA Launches Program to Protect High-Risk Workers from COVID-19

In response to an executive order from President Biden, OSHA has released details on how it will focus in on worker safety and health amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a highly anticipated move, the Occupational Health & Safety Administration announced a new program intended to protect high-risk workers from coronavirus. In a press release, OSHA said it launched a national emphasis program (NEP) focusing enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at series risk of contracting the coronavirus.

“This deadly pandemic has taken a staggering toll on U.S. workers and their families. We have a moral obligation to do what we can to protect workers, especially for the many who have no other protection,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick. “This program seeks to substantially reduce or eliminate coronavirus exposure for workers in companies where risks are high, and to protect workers who raise concerns that their employer is failing to protect them from the risks of exposure.”

According to OSHA, NEP inspections will enhance the agency’s previous coronavirus enforcement efforts, and will include some follow-up inspections of worksites inspected in 2020.

OSHA said it recognized the state plans that have adopted varying requirements to protect employees from the virus. While the agency is not requiring the rest of the states to adopt the NEP, they are strongly encouraging it. State plans must notify federal OSHA of their intention to adopt the NEP within 60 days of its issuance.

In a related action, OSHA has also 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. OSHA will only use remote-only inspections if the agency determines that on-site inspections cannot be performed safely. On March 18, 2021, OSHA will rescind the May 26, 2020, memorandum on this topic and this new guidance will go into and remain in effect until further notice.

“With more people being vaccinated and the number of infections trending down, we know there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Frederick said. “But until we are past this pandemic workers deserve a Labor Department that is looking out for their health.”

OSHA will ensure that its Compliance Safety and Health Officers have every protection necessary for onsite inspections. When conducting on-site inspections, OSHA will evaluate all risk and utilize appropriate protective measures, including appropriate respiratory protection and other necessary personal protective equipment.

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