by: Eric J. Conn

What do manufacturers, nursing homes, and chemical companies have in common?  They all represent industries receiving special enforcement scrutiny from today’s OSHA.

OSHA is targeting manufacturers under a major Recordkeeping Enforcement National Emphasis Program (Recordkeeping NEP).  OSHA launched the Recordkeeping NEP at the end of 2009, originally selecting inspection targets across a wide array of industries.  A senior OSHA official has explained that “there are several different goals here.  One is just to find out what’s going on.  Another is to send a message to companies – via penalties – that injury and illness book-cooking won’t go unpunished.”  However, the inspections were not yielding the significant enforcement actions that OSHA expected, so OSHA suspended the NEP, evaluated the data it had been collecting, and decided to re-focus the Recordkeeping NEP almost exclusively on manufacturers.  See this article describing the new manufacturing focus of the Recordkeeping NEP.  Since re-launching the NEP with this focus on manufacturers, OSHA has been finding the serious violations it expected, including a remarkable set of Recordkeeping citations against one manufacturer with a penalty exceeding $1.2 Million.  See the OSHA Press Release about this enforcement action.

Nursing care is the other industry primarily subject to scrutiny under OSHA’s Recordkeeping NEP.  In addition, the nursing care industry is being targeted by OSHA under its 2010 Site-Specific Targeting Program (“SST”).  Under the SST, OSHA has selected hundreds of nursing care facilities for compliance inspections focusing on prevalent injuries and illnesses facing health care workers, such as ergonomic injuries related to handling patients, exposure to blood and airborne pathogens and other potentially infectious materials, Tuberculosis, workplace violence, and slips, trips and falls.  See OSHA’s Press Release announcing the SST program.  Finally, within the next couple of months, OSHA is preparing to launch a third special emphasis program targeting nursing care employers, the Nursing Home NEP.  The Nursing Home NEP, which was prompted by the industry’s reports of high injury and illness rates, is expected to last at least three years, to cover a large number of nursing care facilities, and to focus, like the SST inspections, on infectious diseases, physical stresses from lifting patients, and violent patients.

Finally, OSHA is in the midst of a major enforcement initiative targeting chemical manufacturers and processors, known as the “PSM Covered Chemical Facilities National Emphasis Program” (Chemical NEP).  See this article describing OSHA’s Chemical NEP.  Under the Chemical NEP, OSHA is conducting aggressive inspections of chemical plants covered by OSHA’s Process Safety Management Standard (“PSM”).  Since OSHA initiated the Chemical NEP, and its predecessor Petroleum Refinery PSM NEP, OSHA has been bringing significant enforcement actions (the Refinery NEP resulted in more than 1,000 citations and fines exceeding $4 Million).  While the Chemical NEP is currently operating as a pilot program, the early success of the program has prompted OSHA to replace it with a much farther reaching enforcement initiative.  This will expand the Chemical NEP nationwide, and will dramatically increase the number of chemical manufacturers targeted by OSHA for PSM NEP inspections.

Now is the time for manufacturers and nursing care employers to make certain their OSHA records are in order, and for chemical manufacturers to ensure their PSM Programs are current and accurate, and for employers in all three of these industries to take the necessary measures to minimize or mitigate workplace injuries and illnesses.