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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Friday launched a “national emphasis program” to focus its enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus.
The program falls short of issuing an emergency COVID-19 safety standard, which some experts had expected as part of an executive order issued by President Joe Biden on Jan. 21 that asked OSHA to consider an emergency standard, which would include stricter and enforceable guidelines for employers.
It was unclear if an emergency standard, due March 15 under the executive order, is imminent. A Department of Labor spokesperson wrote in an e-mail Friday that “OSHA has been working diligently, as appropriate, to consider what standards may be necessary, and is taking the time to get this right,” in accordance with President Biden’s order.
National emphasis programs are temporary programs that focus OSHA’s resources on particular hazards and high-hazard industries. The COVID-19 program will target a number of facilities, including those involved in health care, restaurants, supermarkets, correctional facilities and meat processing plants.
The new program also prioritizes for enforcement actions employers that retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions, or for exercising other rights protected by federal law, according to OSHA statement.
The inspections “will enhance the agency’s previous coronavirus enforcement efforts, and will include some follow-up inspections of worksites inspected in 2020.” The program’s focused strategy ensures abatement and includes monitoring the effectiveness of OSHA’s enforcement and guidance efforts, OSHA said. The program will remain in effect for up to one year from its issuance date, though OSHA has the flexibility to amend or cancel the program as the pandemic subsides, according to the announcement.
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.
More insurance and workers compensation news on the coronavirus crisis here.