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OSHA Regulations: New Program Outlines COVID-19 Workplace Guidelines

OSHA Regulations: New Program Outlines COVID-19 Workplace Guidelines

On March 12, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released details of a new national emphasis program that will help protect workers who are considered “high risk” from coronavirus and address employers who retaliate against employees who have safety concerns about their working conditions. What do employers need to know about this new program?


What is the OSHA National Emphasis Program?

On Jan. 29, 2021, OSHA released these new regulation guidelines on its website in response to an executive order signed by President Biden on Jan. 21, 2021. On March 12, 2021, OSHA released details of a new national emphasis program, which is a temporary program that focuses funds from OSHA on specific hazardous industries. 

The national emphasis program (NEP) launched by OSHA will aim to ramp up inspections of worksites where employees are at a high risk of contracting COVID-19 and conduct follow-up inspections on worksites that were visited in 2020. The inspections will be done by OSHA compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs), who will check for things like availability of protective equipment for workers, sanitation measures, and infection control procedures.

According to OSHA, the goal of the NEP is “to significantly reduce or eliminate worker exposures to SARS- CoV-2 by targeting industries and worksites where employees may have a high frequency of close contact exposures and therefore, controlling the health hazards associated with such exposures. This goal will be accomplished by a combination of inspection targeting, outreach to employers, and compliance assistance.” This NEP will replace the previous May 26, 2020, memorandum on March 18, 2021 and will remain in effect until further notice.


What Workplaces are Considered High Risk?

According to OSHA, high-risk workplaces include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Hospitals 
  • Emergency response settings
  • Nursing homes and assisted living 
  • Laboratories 
  • Morgues 
  • Schools 
  • Businesses
  • Manufacturing
  • Meat, poultry, and other food processing
  • High-volume retail settings

Do Employers Need to Record COVID-19 Cases?

Certain employers are required to prepare and maintain records of serious occupational injuries and illnesses using the OSHA 300 Log. Employers should record cases of COVID-19 if the employee is infected with the virus as a result of performing duties at work and if the following criteria are met, as outlined by OSHA

  1. The case is confirmed as COVID-19 
  2. The case of COVID-19 is work-related (defined by 29 CFR 1904.5)
  3. The case of COVID-19 involves one or more of the recording criteria in 29 CFR 1904.7 (for example, days off of work)

What Else Should Employers Know?

Even if employers are not considered included as a high-risk industry, experts say that this could mean inspections in general will be on the rise for all OSHA-covered organizations, which include most private companies as well as some public sector organizations. It's also important to note that by law, employers must provide their workers with a workplace that doesn’t have hazards and must follow all OSHA safety and health standards. 

To read the entire NEP, visit here.

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