Industry May See COVID-19 OSHA Emergency Standard by March 15

The U.S. grain, feed and processing industry could see an emergency temporary standard from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as soon as March 15.

In addition, the workplace safety agency is expected to take a stronger enforcement posture under the new Biden administration.

These points were made Feb. 18 in an online webinar presented by Jess McCluer, vice president for safety and regulatory affairs at the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA).

With regard to COVID-19, McCluer noted that many labor groups believed OSHA had a relaxed posture toward enforcement with the exception of certain high-risk industries such as meatpacking at the beginning of the pandemic.

However, in one of its first executive orders after taking office on January 20, President Biden instructed OSHA to consider whether to develop and implement an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19, and if so, have a standard ready to be put in place by March 15.


McCluer said he expects any COVID-19 standard to be based on current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and would cover such areas as masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing between workers, ventilation, cleaning, and removal of workers who test positive for the virus from the workplace for quarantine.

He added that a number of states already have implemented or are in the process of implemented their own workplace COVID-19 standards, including Virginia, Oregon, Michigan, California, New Mexico, and New Jersey.

More generally, McCluer said to expect a more intensive enforcement posture by the agency, including a return to “regulation by shaming,” a practice common during the Obama administration involving the use of press releases to single out OSHA violators for public criticism.

Some specific things the grain, feed and processing industry may expect from OSHA in the near future:

  • Current special emphasis programs targeting the grain industry in OSHA Regions 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10 – covering much of the Midwest, Southwest, and West -- are likely to be extended out as far as 2024.
  • OSHA will return to an emphasis on its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which had lapsed to some degree under the Trump administration. Under this program, severe and/or repeat violators are punished with additional inspections, and it is unclear on how a company can be removed from the program.
  • Standards due for revision include Lockout/Tagout and Hazard Communication.
  • The current alliance between NGFA and OSHA for safety training programs will continue. NGFA has scheduled its next Stand Up for Safety program for March 29-April 2 and will kick it off with a virtual event.