The US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched a 12-month-long national emphasis programme (NEP) focusing enforcement efforts on organisations that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting COVID-19.
The initiative, introduced in response to President Joe Biden's executive order on protecting worker health and safety, also prioritises employers that retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions, or for exercising other rights protected by federal law.
The central feature of the NEP is to increase programmed inspections of high-hazard workplaces. OSHA will continue to perform unannounced inspections, giving the highest priority to workplaces with reported COVID-19 fatalities, and those for which OSHA has received complaints regarding worker exposure to COVID-19 hazards.
The NEP also emphasises whistleblower protections and OSHA's plans to focus on 'ensuring that workers are protected from retaliation' for voicing concerns about COVID-19 hazards in the workplace.
OSHA has also updated its Interim Enforcement Response Plan to prioritise 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 on-site inspections cannot be performed safely.
'OSHA will ensure that compliance safety and health officers have every protection necessary for onsite inspections,' the agency said. 'When conducting on-site inspections, OSHA will evaluate all risk and utilise appropriate protective measures, including appropriate respiratory protection and other necessary personal protective equipment.'