On July 7th, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released an update to its workplace COVID-19 enforcement policies. Accordingly, as businesses reopen, the updated guidelines help ensure that employers act safely and protect their workers from COVID-19 exposure. Earlier, in June 2021, OSHA issued a coronavirus emergency temporary standard (ETS) to help protect health care workers. Following that announcement, OSHA focused on creating and updating guidelines that affect non-health care employees. Subsequently, the July 7 release focuses on workers who are not in the healthcare industry.
OSHA’s COVID-19 Enforcement Policy
Previously in May 2020, OSHA released new enforcement guidance as many businesses began to reopen at that time. Accordingly, OSHA announced that it would prioritize COVID-19 inspections based on the most significant exposure risk or infection report. For that reason, healthcare workers and offices were high on the list of possible OSHA inspections. Additionally, any other types of business in lower-risk areas were subject to on-site inspections. Currently, based on the updated workplace COVID-19 enforcement policies, OSHA has included additional ways to reduce the risk of transmission.
Updates to the Policy
Specifically, the following are additions or updates to OSHA’s workplace COVID-19 enforcement policies:
- Firstly, OSHA will continue to implement the Department of Labor’s COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan to reduce the risk of transmission. Accordingly, OSHA will also use the plan in making determinations of unsafe worksites.
- Secondly, the agency will continue to prioritize COVID-19-related inspections involving deaths or multiple hospitalizations due to occupational coronavirus exposures. Accordingly, the prioritization criteria come from OSHA’s recent National Emphasis Program (NEP). Also, OSHA uses the same prioritization when conducting follow-up inspections and identifying high-hazard industries. Additionally, the NEP focuses on ensuring worker protection from retaliation.
- Thirdly, OSHA must address violations of OSHA standards and the General Duty Clause in workplaces not covered by the COVID-19 ETS.
- Fourthly, OSHA will perform on-site COVID-19 inspections in most cases.
- Lastly, the agency will, when appropriate, use phone and video conferencing to reduce potential exposure hazards. However, in instances where it is necessary and safe to do so, in-person interviews will be conducted.