By A. Scott HeckerAdam R. YoungPatrick D. JoyceBenjamin D. Briggs, James L. Curtis, Daniel R. Birnbaum, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: OSHA this week announced a national emphasis program (“NEP”) to prevent workplace hazards in warehouses, processing facilities distribution centers, and high-risk retail establishments.

According to OSHA,

[i]n the past 10 years, warehousing and distribution centers have experienced tremendous growth with more than 1.9 million people employed in the industry.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows injury and illness rates for these establishments are higher than in private industry overall and, in some sectors, more than twice the rate of private industry.

To address these injury and illness rates, OSHA, on July 13, 2023, announced a NEP “to identify and reduce or eliminate hazards during warehousing and distribution center operations, mail/postal processing and distribution centers, parcel delivery/courier services, and certain high injury rate retail establishments.”  The NEP will last for three years, and

under [it], OSHA will conduct comprehensive safety inspections focused on hazards related to powered industrial vehicle operations, material handling and storage, walking and working surfaces, means of egress and fire protection. The program will also include inspections of retail establishments with high injury rates with a focus on storage and loading areas; however, OSHA may expand an inspection’s scope when evidence shows that violations may exist in other areas of the establishment.

Employers in these sectors should be aware of OSHA’s enforcement priorities and ensure their compliance programs address the named hazards.  While OSHA does not have specific regulations addressing heat or ergonomics, the agency advised it will also evaluate these areas, “and health inspections may be conducted if OSHA determines these hazards are present.”  Presumably, OSHA would employ the General Duty Clause to issue citations concerning heat or ergonomics.

The primary focus areas of the NEP are broad enough, but OSHA has explicitly noted “it may expand an inspection’s scope [to] other areas of the establishment” and may open health inspections where warranted, so the bounds of OSHA’s enforcement activity could expand quickly.  Employers can expect programmed inspections in the industry going forward. We will continue to monitor the development and implementation of this NEP.

For more information on this or any related topic, please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.