OSHA COVID Regulation Extensions Expiring As More Inspections Likely To Rise

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The Pennsylvania Governor announced in early May that all COVID-19 mitigation orders will be lifted on Memorial Day, except for the mask mandate.

While this is certainly another sign that the pandemic might be nearing an end, the state and federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is still cracking down.

And this trend extends beyond Pennsylvania.

For example, Oregon OSHA adopted temporary emergency rules last November to protect against COVID in the workplace, but the rules expire May 4. The rules require masks, social distancing and training related to the pandemic.

Oregon OSHA cannot extend the temporary rules beyond 180 days, so they plan to adopt a permanent rule and then repeal it after the pandemic.

While states grapple with a slowing pandemic, OSHA under the Biden administration is only increasing workplace safety efforts.

More OSHA inspectors and OSHA inspections coming

With a renewed focus on enforcing the law and existing standards and guidelines, OSHA plans to double its number of inspectors.

This growth stems from Biden’s campaign when called the former President to drastically increase OSHA’s enforcement of regulations and guidelines concerning COVID-19 and “double the number of OSHA investigators to enforce the law and existing standards and guidelines.”

In November, there were roughly 761 OSHA inspectors working. That is down from 952 inspectors in 2016 and 1,006 inspectors in 2012.

If the Biden administration begins hiring additional investigators immediately, it likely will take around 18 months for the new inspectors to be trained and begin conducting inspections.

Once those new compliance officers are in the field, employers can expect a rise in OSHA inspections.

OSHA launches COVID-19 National Emphasis Program

In response to President Biden’s January 21, 2021 Executive Order, the NEP was launched as well as updates to OSHA’s Interim Enforcement Response Plan (“IERP”). 

OSHA launched its new COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (“NEP”) on March 12, 2021,  which outlines policies and procedures for minimizing worker exposures to COVID-19. To accomplish this, NEP targets certain “high-hazard” industries and worksites where employees may have a high frequency of close contact exposures, even without a complaint from an employee. 

Employers in the healthcare, food processing, and general warehousing industries should be particularly conscious of the possibility of an OSHA inspection in the next 12 months.

Under a normal NEP, OSHA must conduct outreach for 90 days before initiating inspections. However, OSHA claims here that the outreach it already conducted nationally and regionally during the pandemic satisfies the 90-day outreach requirement, thereby allowing Area Offices to initiate inspections pursuant to the NEP immediately. 

The NEP is effective for 12 months from March 12, 2021, but OSHA can cancel it at an earlier date or extend it.

In addition, the updates to OSHA’s IERP state that Area Offices will prioritize COVID-19-related inspections involving deaths or multiple hospitalizations due to occupational exposures to COVID-19. 

Employers should review these lists and their COVID-19 exposure histories to determine if they face a greater likelihood of a programmed or follow-up inspection.

Uncertainty over COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS)

On April 26, 2021, OSHA submitted its Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) on COVID-19, in response to President Biden’s January 21, 2021 Executive Order, to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for review. 

It remains uncertain what this nationwide standard will be, but based on OSHA’s guidance to date, and reports from the DOL, it could include measures like requiring employers to have a written plan, supply masks, enforce social distancing, maintain cleaning and disinfection measures, and to train workers on workplace safety as it relates to COVID-19.

Although employers can certainly breathe a sigh of relief that most COVID-19 will be behind us shortly, employers should be aware of the federal government’s increased focus on workplace safety and enforcement. 

Maintaining a workplace free of the hazard of COVID-19 exposure is more important now than ever.


CNS Occupational Medicine helps employers meet OSHA guidelines

CNS Occupational Medicine offers OSHA-related services to contribute to your company’s workplace safety plan, such as:

Start your customized health plan to meet your business needs and keep your employees healthy and safe.

For more information, contact us at 800.551.9816 or occmed@cnsprotects.com.