National Emphasis Programs (NEPs) are temporary programs that focus OSHA’s resources on particular hazards and high-hazard industries.
Existing and potential new emphasis programs are evaluated using inspection data, injury and illness data, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports, peer-reviewed literature, analysis of inspection findings, and other available information sources.
On March 12, 2021, OSHA announced policies and procedures for implementing a National Emphasis Program to ensure that employees in high-hazard industries or work tasks are protected from the hazard of contracting COVID-19.
The newest NEP augments OSHA’s efforts addressing unprogrammed COVID-19-related activities, e.g., complaints, referrals, and severe incident reports, by adding a component to target specific high-hazard industries or activities where this hazard is prevalent.
The NEP targets establishments that have workers with increased potential exposure to this hazard, and that puts the largest number of workers at serious risk.
In addition, this 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.
Also on March 12, 2021, OSHA issued an “Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)” (ERP).
The ERP “provides new instructions and guidance to Area Offices and Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) for handling COVID-19 related complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports.” It summarizes the NEP and details how CSHOs are to conduct inspections, and it makes on-site inspections the default method, with remote-only inspections to be conducted only with approval of the area director for CSHO safety reasons.