Safety and OSHA News

Report: OSHA should do more to ensure correction of violations

The Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) says OSHA didn’t ensure employers took adequate measures to require correction of violations in 16% of citations in FY 2015. 

Based on a random sample of 200 violations, in 28 cases, OSHA didn’t ensure employers abated hazards, according to OIG.

Of the 28 citations:

  • abatement wasn’t completed in 7 cases
  • 12 cases had insufficient evidence of abatement, and
  • abatement was completed after the due date in 9 cases.

Applying the 16% rate to all FY 2015 OSHA violations, that would mean 12,808 weren’t abated.

Three other key findings in the OIG report:

  • For cited violations that weren’t abated immediately, OSHA took an average of 81 calendar days from the inspection date to issue citations, and it took even longer to issue repeat and willful citations
  • OSHA closed 16% of construction cases in the sample, not because the hazards had been corrected, but because the construction project had ended, and
  • For one-third of the sample, OSHA didn’t have evidence that it adequately considered whether a violation was repeat or willful.

OSHA responded to the findings:

  • The agency says a lack of proper documentation doesn’t necessarily indicate abatement didn’t occur. OSHA says its own analysis shows only 0.5% of violations in FY 2015 weren’t abated.
  • Once again citing its own analysis, OSHA said it took an average of only 48 working days to issue citations following the opening of an inspection. (Note that the OIG used calendar days and OSHA used working days for this statistic.) OSHA says the following variables increase the amount of time between the inspection and issuance of citations: willful citations; violations of complex standards, such as Process Safety Management; and cases in which there was a death. In those situations, OSHA says it takes more time to develop the citations so they can withstand judicial review.
  • OSHA says its hands are tied, and it’s not automatically able to inspect a second construction site overseen by an employer that was cited at another location. OSHA also notes only 38% of the sample citations were in the construction industry, but it conducts about 50% of its inspections at construction worksites.

The OIG made five recommendations to OSHA which accepted one, rejected three and said it was already doing the fifth:

  • Reinforce OSHA’s policies to its staff regarding the documentation OSHA requires employers to submit as evidence they have abated a cited hazard. This is the recommendation OSHA accepted.
  • Re-evaluate OSHA’s policy on its time frame for issuing citations, and determine if there is a need to develop different ones for various types of citations. OSHA rejected this recommendation, saying all proposed citations are subject to some sort of review which leads to more abatement.
  • Evaluate methods for smaller and transient construction employers to timely verify abatement when it can’t be done during the inspection. OSHA said long-standing case law recognizes closing a worksite as an acceptable form of abatement, and therefore it rejected this recommendation.
  • Revise OSHA’s policies to provide clearer guidance on how to obtain abatement verification at smaller construction sites where contractors become inactive in a very short period of time. OSHA rejected this recommendation, noting it already has policies, such as its “Quick Fix” solution, which it considers acceptable.
  • Require OSHA inspectors to document if they conducted a pre-inspection history search on employers to help determine if repeat or willful citations should be issued. OSHA said a history search is already completed in every OSHA inspection.

The OIG said it didn’t change any of its recommendations based on OSHA’s responses.

What this potentially means for employers:

  • A renewed emphasis on hazard abatement following OSHA inspections. Despite OSHA’s rejection of most of the recommendations in this report, it’s now “on notice” from its parent department (Labor) to put more emphasis on hazard abatement.
  • Lawmakers who want to put more emphasis on employer assistance as opposed to inspections/enforcement just got a report they can use to make their point. It’s not difficult to imagine a member of Congress who favors the more assistance approach to hold up this report and say something along the lines of, “See, inspections by themselves don’t guarantee hazard abatement.” Right or wrong, this report can now be used as a rallying cry from those who favor more assistance and less enforcement.

What do you think about the report? Let us know in the comments.

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