In response to President Biden’s executive order in January, as well as the ongoing global pandemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has expanded their inspection and enforcement efforts for companies with employees who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 while on the clock.
The program, called the “COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (NEP),” focuses heavily on retaliation standards and safeguarding employees’ ability to report unsafe and unhealthy conditions in their work environment. According to Department of Labor (DOL)’s news release, the program will be in effect for as long as one year, though OSHA retains the right to amend or cancel the program as the pandemic evolves.
Let’s discuss this compliance-centered development and how you can protect your business under its stricter federal rules.
Understanding the COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (NEP)
The COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (NEP) aims to substantially reduce or eliminate the potential for coronavirus exposure for U.S. workers, particularly those in “high risk” positions. As the main aspect of its strategy, the NEP seeks to protect those who raise concerns about employers failing to defend employees from known or recognizable hazards.
NEP inspections will expand the agency’s previous coronavirus efforts and include some follow-up inspections of worksites inspected in 2020. The program’s plan guarantees better abatement of hazards and evaluation of OSHA’s enforcement and guidance efforts, as well. OSHA also updated its Interim Enforcement Response Plan to prioritize the use of on-site workplace inspections, or a combination of on-site and remote approaches.
So, what does this mean for you and your hourly workforce operation specifically?
How to Prepare for OSHA’s COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (NEP)
Over the course of 2020, OSHA provided a lot of relevant instruction on the best ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In terms of protecting your business from employee complaints and NEP investigations, existing OSHA guidance is going to be your greatest asset.
In response to this new program, you will want to do two things, specifically:
- Revisit OSHA’s guidance from the past year on managing a compliant, hazard-free environment during the pandemic. Following their suggested protocol will lower your chances of having an employee file a complaint or reduce your risk of being investigated for preventable hazards.
- Examine your employee handbook and operational policies to ensure they satisfy all mandatory OSHA requirements. In particular, make sure your policies do not punish workers for reporting unsafe and unhealthy site conditions.
In regards to the first item, OSHA’s guide for keeping employees safe, called “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19,” can help educate you on the hazards you may have missed. It also includes the specific actions needed to appease federal initiatives. It encourages practices such as using face coverings, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), social distancing, hazard assessments, and consistent sanitation regimens to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The more CDC recommendations you embrace, the less likely you will have a run-in with the NEP.
In terms of the second item, your handbook policies must prioritize workforce safety. Allowing retaliation against employees for reporting unsafe working conditions in any way would be in direct opposition to the NEP. As stated in the official press release, it is illegal to retaliate against workers who report unsafe and unhealthy working conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, you will need to examine your handbook policies, in addition to your workforce management practices, to ensure you are setting your operation up for success.
As a final note, you may want to retrain your managers or HR personnel to ensure they are fully aware of their compliance responsibilities. For instance, last fall, OSHA released guidance that you must report a work-related COVID-19 employee death within eight hours of learning of it and in-patient hospitalizations related to workplace exposure within 24 hours. While this requirement doesn’t necessarily need to be included in your employee handbook, it is still an important compliance item to keep on your managers’ radars as you refocus your compliance efforts.
OSHA Compliance with Workforce Management
In light of the new standards being established by OSHA, it is important to take advantage of all the protections you can. Your HR solution should make it easier to keep your hourly workforce safe, not harder. Luckily, EPAY Systems makes keeping up with OSHA changes a lot easier.
Our HCM system is designed to be flexible for the hourly, distributed workforce. It provides many powerful tools for managing scattered workers, such as touchless time-collection solutions, a robust online learning management system (with access to OSHA and COVID safety courses), and access to compliance portals!