OSHA recently revised its National Emphasis Program (NEP) for COVID-19 and updated its Interim Response Plan for enforcement of COVID-related violations while simultaneously extending the comment period for the coronavirus emergency temporary standard (ETS).
Some discretionary enforcement protocols has been revoked as states begin to reopen and the agency has brought its enforcement guidance to be more in line with the ETS, which is getting an extended comment period.
Revised NEP and enforcement
OSHA launched its COVID-19 NEP March 12 to “focus on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk” as well as to address employers retaliating against employees complaining about unsafe conditions.
The agency evaluated inspection and illness data leading to a revised NEP, issued July 8, that targets the most at-risk industries, but still includes healthcare and meat and poultry processing facilities, according to an OSHA news release.
An appendix that included a list of secondary target industries was removed from the NEP following analysis of the inspection and illness data.
The NEP now points OSHA inspectors to the Inspection Procedures for the COVID-19 ETS, which was released June 28, and was updated July 8.
Updates to the procedures include:
- enforcing protections for workers in non-healthcare industries who are unvaccinated or aren’t fully vaccinated
- revoking enforcement discretion for temporary noncompliance with the Respiratory Protection Standard where respirator supplies and services are readily available
- revoking enforcement discretion “for the same requirements in other health standards, where full compliance may have been difficult for some non-healthcare employers due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” and
- ensuring workers are protected from retaliation.
The updated procedures are in effect until further notice and are “intended to be time-limited to the current COVID-19 public health crisis.”
Extended comment period
OSHA announced July 8 that it will publish a notice in the Federal Register extending the comment period on the COVID-19 healthcare ETS to Aug. 20, 2021.
This is to allow additional time for stakeholders to review the ETS and collect data for comment.
Comments can be submitted electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal.