OSHA’s National Emphasis Program on COVID-19

Senior Living | 5/4/2021

Written By: Mark Holt

National Emphasis Programs (NEPs) have been used relatively sparingly in recent years, the last being focused on limiting workers exposure to silica, approximately a year ago. These seemingly have been reserved for exposures typically found in heavy industrial or manufacturing type risks. The most recent NEP, titled “Coronavirus Disease 2019,” was implemented by Executive Order by President Biden, which became effective March 12, 2021, and is scheduled to run one year. This NEP, in contrast to others, will have far reaching implications to almost every industry in the country.

OSHA is prioritizing industries who they perceive are most at risk. Not surprisingly, Residential Care Facilities are at the top of that list. This NEP is a combination of targeted inspections, outreach to employers, compliance assistance and Whistleblower protection. While OSHA has historically been good at outreach, we are suspect of any compliance assistance they may give related to this NEP. Another thought for consideration is that once they are in your business, they will likely expand the scope of the inspection to look at your policies and practices related to Hazard Communication, Exposure Control (specifically Blood Borne Pathogens), Confined Spaces and Control of Hazardous Energy.

Based on our experience, and that of client’s who already have been visited, the focus will be on the use of N-95 respirators, and the presence and implementation of a Respiratory Protection Plan (RPP) and an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan (IDPRP). The RPP will support the use of N-95 respirators, while the IDPRP is an emergency response plan to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. This will address screening procedures, the use protective barriers, PPE, and likely much of what you’ve already done in response to COVID-19.

One of the main questions we have in the enforcement of this NEP is what discretion compliance officers will exhibit. In our experience, if an employer made a “good faith” effort to protect workers and comply with a standard, compliance officers generally took that into consideration in allowing them to correct the problem before issuing a citation. We are hearing that there is definitely more of a “hard line” attitude related to this NEP, so it behooves employers to focus on the items listed above.

At a minimum, we recommend you review all your OSHA-related policies and have a discussion with your management about how to manage an OSHA inspection. If you need more information on this important topic or help in bringing your organization into compliance with the focus of this NEP, please contact the AssuredPartners Senior Living professionals.