OSHA’s getting serious — enforcement serious — about coronavirus and the workplace

On Friday, OSHA announced that it had launched a “national emphasis program” to protect high-risk workers from COVID-19 hazards.

Ok, OSHA, you have our attention.

According to OSHA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, “This program seeks to substantially reduce or eliminate coronavirus exposure for workers in companies where risks are high, and to protect workers who raise concerns that their employer is failing to protect them from the risks of exposure.”

How, you ask? OSHA plans to accomplish these goals by “focusing enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus.”

Translation: NEP inspections, either onsite, remote, or some combination, including some follow-up inspections of worksites inspected in 2020.

Another OSHA bugaboo is retaliation. Specifically, the program “prioritizes employers that retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions, or for exercising other rights protected by federal law.”

The program will remain in effect for up to a year, although OSHA can extend it, if necessary.

Employer takeaways.

Keep your eye on the prize. Some states are relaxing the rules on masks, social distancing, PPE, etc. That’s all well and good until you realize that OSHA doesn’t give a you-know-what about that states do. The best practice to keep your nose clean is to follow CDC guidelines and other OSHA mandates on workplace safety.

Another best practice — wait for it — is to register here for The Employer Handbook Zoom Office Hour, which will take place on Friday, 3/19 at Noon ET. My special guest David Miklas and I will discuss these new OSHA mandates, how to handle FFCRA leave under the American Rescue Plan, and do a lot of audience Q&A. (If you’ve got questions for Friday’s Zoom, email them to me. You’ll be first in the queue.)

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