OSHA's New COVID-19 Inspection Plan: What Employers Should Expect

On April 13, 2020, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), which provides a blueprint for the agency's Area Directors and inspectors to follow when considering opening and conducting a COVID-19-related inspection. The plan gives employers a glimpse into what to expect from OSHA during the pandemic.


OSHA is prioritizing fatalities, imminent danger situations, and "very high" and "high" risk exposure categories detailed in previous OSHA guidance for inspections and investigations. The agency does not, however, define or explain what, exactly, is an "imminent danger" situation in a pandemic. For employers within the "medium" or "low" risk exposure categories, OSHA will generally not conduct an inspection, except perhaps in egregious situations. Most employers in the medium or low risk categories (especially those with "billing clerks," the lone example cited by OSHA) can expect to receive complaint letters, requests for a rapid response investigation (RRI), or a hazard alert letter.

COVID-19 inspections will be treated as "novel cases." On-site inspections will be uncommon and require clearance with OSHA Regional Directors. OSHA instructed its Area Directors to "maximize the use of electronic means of communication (remote video surveillance, phone interviews, email correspondences, facsimile and email transmittals of documents, video conferences, etc.)."

Inspections: What to Expect

For a field inspection, compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) are expected to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes, at a minimum, "goggles, disposable gloves, and disposable gowns or coveralls of appropriate size," and "a fit-tested half-mask elastomeric respirator with at least an N95 filter." CSHOs must also adhere to "any facility-imposed PPE requirements" during the inspection. The employer is not required to provide such PPE to the CSHO.

CSHOs will conduct an opening conference in a designated, uncontaminated administrative area, or by telephone, if necessary. "As appropriate to the setting," OSHA notes, "CSHOs should ask to speak to the infection control director, safety director, and/or the health professional responsible for occupational health hazard control." Private interviews with affected employees should be conducted in uncontaminated areas or, ideally, over the telephone. At all times during...

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