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OSHA's New National Emphasis Program Directed to Warehousing and Distribution Center Operations

By Lindsey Deck, Auman Mahan & Furry

“This emphasis program allows OSHA to direct resources to establishments where evidence shows employers must be more intentional in addressing the root causes of worker injuries and align their business practices with the goal to ensure worker health and safety.”

~ Doug Parker, Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health

            The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) recently issued a new National Emphasis Program (“NEP”), this one directed toward warehousing and distribution center operations. The NEP was issued after the Bureau of Labor Statistics history showed that injury and illness rates for these particular establishments are significantly higher than for other establishments. The three (3) year NEP, which became effective on July 13, 2023, provides policies and procedures for inspections of warehousing and distribution center operations, mail/postal processing and distribution centers, parcel delivery/courier services, and certain high-injury rate retail establishments. All inspections conducted under this NEP, except for high-injury rate retail establishments, will be comprehensive safety inspections. In the case of high-injury rate retail establishments, inspections will be partial inspections unless OSHA expands the scope, after finding evidence that violative conditions may be found in other areas of that establishment.

            OSHA’s focus for this NEP will focus on workplace hazards common to the above-listed industries and may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Powered industrial vehicle operations;
  • Material handling/storage;
  • Walking/working surfaces;
  • Means of egress;
  • Fire protection; and
  • Heat and ergonomic hazards[1]

OSHA plans to target establishments for a programmed inspection by using neutral and objective selection criteria. Area Offices will be provided two (2) separate lists to be inspected under this NEP: (1) a list of establishments taken from certain NAICS codes[2]; and (2) a list of high-rate retail establishments[3]. OSHA will also conduct unprogrammed inspections based on fatalities/catastrophes, complaints, or referrals related to establishments in the NAICS codes covered under this NEP.

[1] A health inspection shall be conducted if OSHA learns that heat and/or ergonomic hazards are present

[2] 491110-Postal Service (Processing & Distribution Centers Only); 492110 (Couriers and Express Delivery Services); 492210 (Local Messengers and Local Delivery); 493110 (General Warehousing and Storage; 493120 (Refrigerated Warehousing and Storage); 493130 (Farm Product Warehousing and Storage); and 493190 (Other Warehousing and Storage)

[3] 444110 (Home Centers); 444130 (Hardware Stores); 444190 (Other Building Material Dealers); 445110 (Supermarkets and other grocery stores); 452311 (Warehouse Clubs and Supercenters)

OSHA state plans will be required to adopt this NEP or establish a different program at least as effective as the federal model within sixty (60) days of the effective date (July 13, 2023).

Employers covered by this NEP should be aware of the new initiative and should be prepared for an inspection, keeping in mind most of these inspections will be comprehensive in nature, with the exception of high-injury rate retail establishments. However, employers should also be aware that OSHA may expand the scope of a partial inspection after finding evidence that violative conditions may be found in other areas of that high-injury rate retail establishment. Finally, employers should know that if any heat and/or ergonomic hazards are found during an inspection under this NEP, OSHA will conduct a health inspection of the establishment.

In addition, employers should be aware that even if they are not included in the subject NAICS codes listed above, employers that maintain a warehouse as part of their business can use this NEP as insight into areas an OSHA compliance officer may be interested in inspecting during a compliance inspection conducted under a different NEP, or as part of an inspection following an employee complaint or reportable injury or illness.

Specific questions regarding this NEP can be directed to ORCA for further information and/or assistance.

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