OSHA Announces COVID-19 National Emphasis Program and Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

While OSHA is expected today, March 15th, to confirm that it will issue a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), and to get that ETS released within a month, there were also a couple of important developments last week regarding OSHA’s approach to COVID-19 enforcement.

On Friday afternoon, March 12th, OSHA launched a COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (“COVID-19 NEP”) to:

“focus its inspection and enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the virus,” as well as prioritizing employers that “retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions, or for exercising other rights protected by federal law.”

This move by OSHA was not unexpected.  As we previously shared, Pres. Biden’s Day-1 OSHA Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety (the same EO that called for the COVID-19 ETS), separately called for OSHA to issue a COVID-19 NEP.

Goals of the COVID-19 NEP

In today’s announcement about the COVID-19 NEP, OSHA explained that “the goal of this NEP is to significantly reduce or eliminate worker exposures to SARS-CoV-2 by targeting industries and worksites where employees may have a high frequency of close contact exposures and therefore, controlling the health hazards associated with such exposures.”  The NEP includes “an added focus to ensure that workers are protected from retaliation” and are accomplishing this by preventing retaliation where possible, distributing anti-retaliation information during inspections and outreach opportunities, as well as promptly referring allegations of retaliation to the Whistleblower Protection Program.

Industries and Workplaces Covered by the NEP

OSHA also explained that inspections under the COVID-19 NEP will include some follow-up inspections of worksites previously inspected by OSHA in 2020, but principally will focus on establishments in industries identified on targeting lists OSHA will develop now.  The NEP covers a broader set of workplaces than seems consistent with the goals of the NEP.  The directive creates three different lists of covered workplaces – high risk healthcare establishments and high risk non-healthcare establishments (which is how the NEP has been described), and also a third list of “Supplemental Industries for non-Healthcare in Essential Critical Infrastructure” that does not have the same high exposure risk characteristics of the first two lists.  The industries covered by these three lists are included at the bottom of this email.  Area Offices may also “add establishments to the generated master lists based on information from appropriate sources (e.g., local knowledge of establishments, commercial directories, referrals from the local health department, or from other federal agencies with joint jurisdictions, such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), media referrals or previous OSHA inspection history).” Continue reading

President Biden’s Day 1 Executive Order regarding OSHA’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We did not have to wait long for the big update we have been holding our breath about – what the Biden Administration’s plans will be for a federal COVID-19 emergency standard.  As we expected, in just his first full day in Office (January 21, 2021), President Biden has already issued an Executive Order focused on OSHA’s approach to managing the COVID-19 crisis in the workplace, but the answer about a federal COVID-19 ETS is not as clear as we expected, or at least, the definitive answer will come a little later.

In the Order entitled “Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety,” President Biden has directed federal OSHA to revisit its overall strategy for regulating and enforcing issues associated with workplace spread of COVID-19 to execute his Administration’s policy on worker safety:

“Ensuring the health and safety of workers is a national priority and a moral imperative. Healthcare workers and other essential workers, many of whom are people of color and immigrants, have put their lives on the line during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. It is the policy of my Administration to protect the health and safety of workers from COVID-19.”

Specifically, President Biden has directed the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA to take four key actions relative to COVID-19 in the workplace: Continue reading

[Webinar] Process Safety Update: The Latest with OSHA PSM & EPA RMP

On Tuesday, November 17th at 1 PM Eastern, join Eric J. Conn, Micah Smith and Beeta Lashkari for a complimentary webinar: Process Safety Update: The Latest with OSHA PSM & EPA RMP.

Following the 2013 West Fertilizer explosion, then-President Obama issued Exec. Orders directing OSHA, EPA and other agencies to “modernize” the chemical process safety regulatory landscape. OSHA and EPA took sweeping actions, from enforcement initiatives (like a new PSM National Emphasis Program) to rulemakings and interpretation letters.

Then President Trump took office with a de-regulatory agenda.  But rather than unwavering deregulation, Trump Admin. initiatives in this area have been splintered, with some deregulatory work proceeding (e.g., rollback of RMP amendments), others coming to a complete halt (e.g., PSM reform rulemaking), and still others moving forward like business as usual (e.g., the Chem/REF PSM NEP inspections and the CSB’s new accidental release reporting rule).  And now, with the Presidential Election behind us (sort of), and a new Biden Administration looming, we could see another significant shake-up of the regulatory landscape.

This webinar reviews the status and likely future of OSHA’s PSM Standard and EPA’s RMP Rule, CSB developments, and other process safety issues, such as the recent 10th Cir. Decision on PSM application to interconnected and co-located vessels.

Click here to register for the November 17th webinar. Continue reading

Confounding Expectations, OSHA Enforcement in the Trump Administration Is On the Rise

By Eric J. Conn and Beeta B. Lashkari

Based on the rhetoric from the 2016 presidential campaign trail, it was reasonable for Industry to anticipate OSHA enforcement under a Trump Administration to contract significantly from the aggressive enforcement model employed by Pres. Obama’s OSHA.  Informed by the enforcement philosophies of past Republican administrations, the expectation was that a Pres. Trump / Sec. Acosta OSHA would scale back enforcement, favor compliance assistance, slash OSHA’s budget and staff to limit enforcement, retire national and local emphasis enforcement programs, revise enforcement policies that inflate civil penalties, and otherwise retool its approach to ease the regulatory burden on employers.

The reality, however, is that OSHA during the Trump-era has not backed down from its enforcement mission.  Quite to the contrary, relevant enforcement data reveals enforcement creep.  With still no Trump-appointed Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA in place nearly two years into the Trump Administration, career OSHA staff have considerable influence over the direction OSHA is steering, and that is why little has changed, and why change may not be on the near horizon.

Here are some of the key ways that OSHA enforcement is hardly distinguishable two years into the Trump Administration from OSHA during the Obama Administration:

  • OSHA’s FY19 budget is increasing by $5M from the end of the Obama-era (nearly $560M total)
  • The number of employees at OSHA dipped at the start of the Trump Administration, but it has restored to roughly the same as the end of the Obama-era (approx. 2,000)

  • The number of National and Local Emphasis Enforcement Programs remains essentially the same (approx. 150 Local/Regional Emphasis Programs and 9 National Emphasis Programs), including new or retooled NEPs for petroleum refineries and trenching
  • The total number of fed OSHA inspections actually increased from 31,948 in FY2016 to 32,396 in FY2017 (the first year over year increase in the number of inspections in nearly a decade)

Continue reading