The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently announced an extension of its COVID-19 National Emphasis Program. The program focuses enforcement efforts on employers with the largest number of workers at risk of coronavirus exposure. In addition, it pursues retaliation cases related to unsafe conditions. Originally, the program was set to expire on July 7th, 2022. Earlier in March, OSHA reaffirmed a plan for a permanent COVID-19 standard for the healthcare industry.

Background of the Extension

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hospitalization rates due to the coronavirus have increased nationwide since mid-April. Furthermore, forecasted data indicates a possible significant increase in the coming weeks. Subsequently, OSHA recognizes the pressing need to continue focused inspections at workplaces where workers are most at risk for coronavirus exposure. These include hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and other healthcare and emergency response providers treating COVID-19-infected patients. However, as before, the COVID-19 National Emphasis Program will also continue to cover employers outside the healthcare industry, such as meat and poultry producers. In reality, all employers must identify and mitigate workplace hazards, including biological hazards like COVID-19.

The COVID-19 National Emphasis Program

In March 2021, OSHA announced its National Emphasis Program, emphasizing targeted enforcement of high-risk industries. The program came in response to President Joseph R. Biden’s January 2021 Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety. In addition to the targeted enforcement efforts, the program targets employers that retaliate against workers who:

  • exercise rights protected by federal law, or
  • make complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions.

Between March 2021 and March 2022, COVID-19 National Emphasis Program inspections accounted for 7% of all OSHA inspections. This number exceeded the program’s goal of 5%. In sum, OSHA has issued 1,200 COVID-related citations and assessed $7.2 million in penalties since the pandemic’s start. Meanwhile, more than 400 employees have received compensation for COVID-related retaliation claims, representing $7.2 million in relief.

Employer Takeaways

OSHA once more encouraged individual states to continue their emphasis programs for COVID-19 inspections. However, any state-level emphasis program should be at least as effective as the federal COVID-19 National Emphasis Program. Therefore, employers must be aware of COVID-19 enforcement efforts within their state. OSHA also provides additional COVID-19 resources, including industry-specific guidance, to help employers comply with COVID-related workplace safety requirements.

COVID-19 Resource Center

In light of recent increases in COVID-19 cases nationwide, the pandemic will likely continue to affect all businesses in the U.S. To help employers communicate important health information to employees and customers, Personnel Concepts created the COVID-19 Resource Center. There, employers will find business signage, posters, and digital training programs to purchase to help reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak within the workplace.