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Regulatory Updates

OSHA COVID-19 Guidance, Regulation and Enforcement to Protect Workers

Bart Ashley | April 13, 2021

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has signaled their intent to provide more guidance, regulation and enforcement with respect to protecting workers from contracting COVID-19 at their place of work. Among the key developments:

  • On January 21, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order which directed OSHA to evaluate whether a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) was needed to better protect workers. As of the March 15, 2021 executive order deadline, no ETS was issued. Reportedly based on meetings between OSHA and business and labor groups an ETS is expected to be issued although no additional timelines were provided. (
  • On January 29, 2021, OSHA published an updated COVID-19 guidance document entitled, “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace” ( This guidance document expands on the previous OSHA COVID-19 recommendations including written COVID-19 prevention plans, hazard assessments, use of barriers and/or physical distancing, face coverings, ventilation, cleaning and disinfection and hygiene.
  • On March 12, 2021 OSHA released a new COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (NEP), as part of the agency’s Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan to help ensure that employees in high hazard industries such as healthcare, food and agriculture, construction, manufacturing, energy, chemicals and transportation are protected from contracting COVID-19. (

Although OSHA’s path forward is not entirely clear, employers should prepare for increased OSHA inspections related to COVID-19, especially in work places where employees routinely work in close contact. To adequately prepare for this increased focus, at a minimum employers should make sure they have implemented a COVID-19 prevention plan, conducted a hazard assessment to identify where and how employees could be exposed to COVID-19 at work, and trained their employees on the COVID-19 prevention plan protocols and procedures. Additional requirements may be forthcoming from OSHA, but development of a strong foundation based on a COVID-19 prevention plan will help employer’s transition in the rapidly changing environment as COVID-19 continues to evolve.

Bart Ashley

Bart Ashley is TRC’s Office Practice Leader for the Building Sciences and Industrial Hygiene group in Honolulu, Hawaii. He has over twenty-five years of experience in the environmental, health and safety field, in a variety of industries. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and Certified Safety Professional who specializes in the evaluation and control of hazardous materials, indoor air quality, and litigation support/expert witness services. As a Principal Scientist, he is responsible for managing all aspects of consulting projects, including project scoping, planning, implementation and mentoring junior staff. He is the past President of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) Hawaii Local Section and is also an active member and Past Chair of the AIHA Indoor Environmental Quality Committee.

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