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OSHA Revises Its COVID-19 National Emphasis Program

By July 23, 2021August 4th, 2021No Comments

On July 7, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revised its national emphasis program (NEP) for COVID-19. The revised NEP adjusts the targeted industries to those most at risk for COVID-19 exposure but still includes health care and non-healthcare, such as meat and poultry processing.

The original NEP was launched on March 12, 2021. OSHA establishes NEPs when it identifies a need to focus its resources to address particular hazards and high-hazard industries. OSHA’s updated COVID-19 NEP adjusts the targeted industries to those most at risk for COVID-19 exposure. Like the original NEP, the new IERP only applies in those states subject to federal OSHA enforcement and do not apply in states with their own occupational safety and health agencies (i.e., state plan states)

The primary targets of the original NEP was the healthcare industry; including hospitals, healthcare providers, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, and home healthcare services.  In addition, restaurants, both full-service and limited-service establishments, were also targeted. Other industries included in the COVID-19 NEP at that time were general warehousing and storage, temporary help and staffing agencies, discount department stores, supermarkets, and grocery stores (excluding convenience stores), and poultry and meat slaughtering and processing plants, some of which already had been inspected and drawn citations.

The 7/7/21 IERP reduces the number of targeted industries being designated at the most risk for COVID-19 exposure.  Those who are covered by the program still include healthcare and some non-healthcare industry segments considered higher risk, such as meat and poultry processing, and warehousing. The IERP also removes an appendix to the agency’s March directive that contained a list of secondary target industries, which apparently will no longer be subject to the enforcement initiative.  These industries include:

  • Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting
  • Construction of buildings; heavy and civil engineering construction
  • Specialty trade contractors
  • Food manufacturing and beverage manufacturing
  • Wood product manufacturing and paper manufacturing
  • Other petroleum and coal products manufacturing
  • Chemical manufacturing
  • Plastics and rubber product manufacturing
  • Nonmetallic mineral product manufacturing
  • Primary metal manufacturing
  • Asphalt paving, roofing, and saturated materials manufacturing.

The revised NEP removes an appendix that provided a list of secondary target industries for the former COVID-19 NEP. Inspections in non-healthcare establishments will follow procedure outlines in the updated interim enforcement response plan. The interim response plan includes updates for:

  • Enforcing protections for workers in non-healthcare industries who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.
  • Where respirator supplies and services are readily available, OSHA will stop exercising enforcement discretion for temporary noncompliance with the Respiratory Protection standard based on employers’ claims of supply shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • OSHA will no longer exercise 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.
  • Updated instructions and guidance for OSHA area offices and compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) for handling COVID-19-related complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports.
  • Ensuring workers are protected from retaliation.
  • References to the revised NEP for COVID-19.

Employers should familiarize themselves with OSHA’s updated COVID-19 NEP, implementing all policies, measures and procedures necessary for compliance with OSHA regulations. Employers are encouraged to visit OSHA’s COVID-19 website for guidance on how to comply with workplace safety requirements.

This Legal Update is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice. © 2021 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.


Steve McCarty

Author Steve McCarty

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