Understand OSHA’s National Focus Program on COVID-19 in the Construction Industry


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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as associated with employee safety and health, has introduced a National Focus Program (NEP) considering the impact of COVID-19. Since the spread of epidemics has shown some as much wasted time in the construction industry as other companies, NEP is likely to have some impact on the construction process. It came into effect on March 12, 2021, and the National Focus Program will likely remain in effect for the next 12 months until any renewal measures are announced. The program is a commitment by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to encourage virus inspections as the program is likely to exercise the general duty clause of OSHA on employers. The program is modeled on President Biden’s January 21 Executive Order directing OSHA on the New Economic Policy while extending the requirements to establish and implement an interim emergency standard against the country’s plan to fight COVID-19. Although there are no emergency standards defined by OSHA, OSHA state authorities are provided with a 60-day deadline to report NEP approval or adhere to certain existing standards or policies set to overcome workplace exposure to COVID-19. But how will it affect the construction industry? OSHA’s NEP has two “master lists” listed in Appendix A and Appendix B that aim to conduct programmed inspections of those industries that are at higher risk of transition. Apart from this, Appendix B also mentions secondary target industries to be included in the programmed inspections. This list also includes “Building Construction” (NAICS 236XXX), Heavy and Civil Construction (NAICS 237XXX), and “Professional Trade Contractors” (NAICS 238XXX). Thus, construction companies that fall under the aforementioned category may be randomly selected to conduct NEP programmed inspections. Moreover, construction employers have to be prepared to expand or attempt expansion, under unprogrammed inspection that may also occur under NEP only. Most importantly, OSHA inspections can occur at any time in the event of a report, site injury, or complaint filed against the employer. OSHA is likely to require site inspections of multiple employers or different contractors under NEP’s non-programmed inspection, should any report of illness or injury be filed against a single building contractor. But what will these inspections be like? OPENING OF CONFERENCE OSHA’s NEP inspections will likely begin with an inaugural conference that will aim to ensure OSHA’s compliance safety and occupational safety and health. These conferences will be held in large conference rooms that will be properly sanitized or the same will be done in an outdoor setting to ensure that social distancing standards are followed during conferences. During these conferences, compliance employees will have interactions with employer representatives who need to maintain social distancing while keeping their faces covered. The conference will also need employers to keep their infection control manager or safety director to speak about the COVID-19 protection practices in place on site. Document Verification After all verbal communication, the next thing OSHA officials are likely to work with is authentication. This will be done on purpose to verify mitigation plans that have been put in place to control exposure to COVID-19. Some common documents that can be reviewed include: Risk assessment and PPE policies Documents to justify purchasing PPE Any administrative policies intended to implement and encourage social distancing Employer respiratory protection program Medical records / records related to exposure Exposure and a tour around the PPE site After verifying all verbal and documented information, officials will head for a site inspection to check for any traces of COVID-19 exposure. However, these areas of the site will be determined on the basis of common usage of places where social distancing has not adhered to or where employees need to work in confined spaces which increases the chances of transition from one worker to another. What can employers do to prepare for NEP checks? Whether programmed or unprogrammed inspections, construction employers need to align well with the written COVID-19 policy that justifies the control procedures and practices applied in the workplace. Also, passing these checks will require employers to train employees on policies and procedures related to face coverings, social distancing standards, and the use of personal protective equipment. In addition, COVID-19 procedures and policies used by employers in construction should include consistent workplace disinfection with special attention to high touch areas such as door handles, restrooms, steering wheels, etc.Also, employers must Ensure that workers must be trained to handle any chemical hazards that may occur on the job site while the same must be maintained in safety data sheets to meet OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standards. Last but not least, employers need to encourage on-site social distancing through amazing downtime that can help reduce any contact. Also, break rooms, conference rooms, offices, and restrooms should be used with limited capacity to ensure that worker-to-worker transmission does not occur. This may also need to plan walking routes that can keep traffic flowing in one direction to avoid direct contact. Effects of Heat Stress of COVID-19 Programs Although the perception of COVID-19 is low, it is still prevalent in some parts of the world as well as in the United States. This is why employers and construction workers will need to deal with another summer of face coverings to avoid spreading. However, there are studies that have shown that wearing masks in the construction workplace can cause heat stress. This is why employers will need to prepare for extra breaks in the construction workplace or an early morning work schedule can be planned to reduce heat stress and humidity. Also, employers should keep a stock of extra masks or personal protective equipment allowing workers and other employees to exchange sweat-soaked equipment for dry ones to improve breathing. Although construction employers are currently confused about OSHA’s NEP inspections as the country heads out to vaccinate more and more people, the Biden government has clearly indicated that worker protection will be the top priority for the coming months. Employers are implementing and adhering to COVID-19 policies and protocols to keep their workers protected and to keep their businesses protected against OSHA’s General Duty Clause and NEP inspections. Ed Williams is the Senior Team Leader at ProjectPro, an integrated construction accounting software. He has extensive industry experience and is a Microsoft Dynamics expert focused on successful implementations. He is a visionary leader who always aims to provide the very best for the construction and project oriented sectors.


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