Quick Summary:

On July 7, 2021, OSHA issued a trade release revising its National Emphasis Program with updates for interim enforcement on COVID-19. This updated plan replaces the memorandum dated March 12, 2021 and affects OSHA inspections in non-healthcare establishments.

Updates include:

  • Protections for unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated workers in non-healthcare industries.
  • OSHA will stop exercising discretion for temporary noncompliance with the respiratory standard due to PPE shortages and other health standards due to COVID–19.
  • Update instructions for handling complaints, referrals and severe illness reports.

As stated earlier in OSHA guidance, workplaces are expected to implement a Workplace Safety Plan to reduce the risk of COVID–19 transmission. Read below for more information about the updated plan.

Deeper Insights: 

The memo provides new instructions and guidance for handling COVID–19 related complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports in non-healthcare workplaces that are not covered by the June 21, 2021 Emergency Temporary Standard for COVID–19. This new Plan remains in effect until further notice.

Workplace exposures may depend on a variety of factors including:

  • The physical environment
  • The type of work activity
  • The health or vaccination status of workers, the ability of workers to wear face coverings (FC) and abide by current CDC guidelines
  • The need for close contact with other people including those known to have or suspected of having COVID–19, and those who may be infected and transmit the virus unknowingly

Other factors such as community spread in the local area, employee activities outside of work and individual health conditions, may also affect workers’ risk of getting COVID–19. Businesses should follow OSHA and public health agency recommendations to minimize transmission of the virus.

CDC Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People provides that under most circumstances, fully vaccinated people need not take all the same precautions as unvaccinated people.

For example, the CDC advises that most fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, regulations, including local businesses and workplace guidance. However, CDC suggests that people who are fully vaccinated but still at-risk due to immunocompromising conditions should discuss the need for additional protections with their healthcare providers.

For potential exposure to unvaccinated workers or who are otherwise at-risk, OSHA recommends implementing multiple layers of controls (e.g., implementing physical distancing, maintaining ventilation systems, and properly using face coverings or personal protective equipment when appropriate).

The updated plan outlines inspection procedures to enable CSHOs to identify exposures to COVID–19 related hazards in non-healthcare settings, and to ensure that appropriate control measures are implemented. Inspection of higher-risk workplaces that can be crowded or involve a high level of interaction with people including, but not limited to, meat, seafood or poultry processing plants, correctional and detention facilities, laboratories, some manufacturing, and some high-volume retail settings, are among those for which these instructions will apply.

Enforcement of protections for workers in non-healthcare industries will focus on unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated workers, including whether such employees are working indoors or outdoors. Additionally, OSHA will implement programmed inspections targeting those non-healthcare industries where OSHA has previously identified increased enforcement activity, and/or establishments with elevated rates of respiratory illnesses.

Complaints for any general industry, agriculture, maritime or construction operation alleging potential exposures should be handled in accordance with the general procedures in the Field Operations Manual.

CSHOs will be following OSHA’s Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID – 19 in the Workplace, and the Appendix, dated June 10, 2021 when conducting inspections.

Several OSHA standards may apply, depending on the circumstances of the case, that document exposure of unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated workers to COVID–19 related hazards. A few general industry standards that will apply include the following:

  • 29 CFR part 1904, Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses
  • 29 CFR 1910.132 General Requirements-PPE
  • 29 CFR 1910.134 Respiratory Protection
  • 29 CFR 1910. 141 Sanitation
  • 29 CFR 1910. 145 Specification for Accident Prevention Signs and Tags
  • 29 CFR 1910.1020 Access to Employee Exposure and medical Records
  • Section 5(a)(1) General Duty Clause of the OSH Act

Violations of OSHA standards cited under this inspection guidance will normally be classified as serious.

For more information, contact your insurance broker’s Loss Control department.