March 29, 2021

New COVID-19 requirements cause concern in the meat industry

New COVID-19 requirements cause concern in the meat industry

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. The NEP will remain in effect for up to one year from its issuance date, although OSHA has the discretion to amend or cancel the program sooner as more workers are vaccinated and the pandemic begins to subside. As for now, the end date is March 12, 2022.

NEPs are a way for OSHA to focus agency resources and target specific high hazard industries or specific hazards common in certain workplaces, and are considered to be a neutral administrative program that allows OSHA to carry out its mission. New to OSHA’s target list for this NEP is certain non-healthcare industries (Appendix A) such as meat processing, poultry processing, supermarkets and other grocery stores, discount department stores, general warehousing and storage, temporary agencies, restaurants, and prisons and correctional facilities. OSHA also has identified a secondary list of non-healthcare essential critical infrastructure industries (Appendix B) such as food and agriculture and manufacturing of food, beverage, wood, paper products, chemicals, energy sector manufacturing, plastic and rubber, mineral products, and metal manufacturing.

Before this announcement, The National Pork Producer Council’s (NPPC) President Jen Sorenson stated that potential OSHA guidelines were of concern to the industry. “We must be careful not to unnecessarily disrupt the food supply chain with mandates designed to achieve worker safety outcomes already achieved,” Sorenson said. “The only material impact of such a temporary emergency standard would be increased food prices, potential meat shortages, and additional staggering losses for farmers from the lost value of livestock again backed up on farms. NPPC is working closely with the administration on the issue.”

There are a few practical takeaways for employers preparing for OSHA’s heightened enforcement efforts under the NEP:

  • Employers, especially those listed in Appendix A and Appendix B to the NEP, should review their policies and practices to make sure that they have developed, implemented, and are maintaining a plan to mitigate the risk of exposure to COVID-19;
  • Employers who were previously inspected for COVID-19 concerns should prepare for the potential for a follow-up inspection and should ensure that any previously noted violations have been cured; and
  • Employers should be careful to ensure that they are not retaliating against employees who complain about COVID-19 safety concerns in any way.