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OSHA Publishes COVID-19 National Emphasis Program

Emily Hartman /
Coronavirus. COVID-19 rendering for work place hygiene self directed training

To protect high-risk workers from COVID-19, OSHA published a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to reduce workplace exposure. Taking immediate effect on March 12, 2021, and for up to one year, the new enforcement program covers inspections and retaliation protection for high-hazard workplaces.

Who is Impacted by the COVID-19 National Emphasis Program?

All businesses should be aware that the program also protects workers from retaliation for making complaints. The Whistleblower Protection Program will investigate any retaliation complaints.

High-hazard industries that the NEP is targeting include:

  • The primary targeted industries are health care or assisted living facilities, meat processing, warehousing/storage, food and beverage restaurant, and grocery stores.
  • Secondary industries include building construction, manufacturing, energy, transportation, and several others.

Below is a searchable list industries included in the NEP. The automotive industry wasn’t included as a high-hazard industry. OSHA Regions and Area Offices may add other industries or establishments.

See Appendix A-1 and A-2 of the OSHA NEP for detailed information.

How Does this Work with Your State?

OSHA “strongly encourages” State Plans to adopt the NEP but isn’t requiring it. All State Plans require a notice of intent within 60 days of March 12, 2021. They must provide an electronic copy of their policies and identify any differences between their response and OSHA’s NEP.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

Each OSHA Region should complete a minimum of 80 inspections in the next year, prioritizing inspections for any workplaces that reported a COVID-19 fatality or have a higher risk of COVID-19 exposure. Area Directors have the authority to prioritize inspections based on any complaints or referrals.

The NEP encourages follow-up inspections for those establishments inspected in the past for a COVID-19-related fatality and received a citation.

Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan

In addition to the NEP, OSHA updated its Interim Enforcement Response Plan to prioritize on-site workplace inspections or on-site and remote methods. Remote inspections will only be conducted if the agency believes that on-site inspection can’t be done safely.

The previous enforcement plan will be rescinded and replaced with this updated plan on March 18, 2021. It will be effective at that time until further notice.

What Should Your Business Do?

Follow the COVID-19 safety best practices outline in OSHA’s Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan. These actions include wearing face masks and social distancing.

Encourage employees to alert you to COVID-19 exposure risks and do not retaliate against those who report workplace issues.

Review your current policies, procedures, and training and ensure they’re up-to-date with the most recent federal and state guidance.

Understand what to do during an OSHA inspection, especially if you’re in a targeted industry. Read more about OSHA inspections.

Protect your business, employees, and reputation with the COVID-19 Safety Program.

Our team of certified safety consultants are here to help put your mind at ease. They are available to conduct in-person risk mitigation audits to help you and your safety team as you address COVID-19 in your daily operations. We can help you identify hazards and control methods, provide an in-depth assessment of potential safety and environmental risks, and deliver recommendations for any areas that need improvement to comply with applicable federal, state, and local regulations. Learn more >>

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