Safety and OSHA News

Where OSHA is targeting inspections now: New priorities

OSHA’s new inspection weighting re-prioritizes what its safety officers will focus on, beginning with the start of the new federal fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2015. What hazards are going to receive more attention from inspectors? 

Traditionally, OSHA would count the number of inspections each year as a metric. At its peak, the federal agency alone (not counting states with their own workplace safety agencies) performed just north of 40,000 inspections per year.

Given the number of workplaces in federal OSHA states, that’s not a lot of inspections. Many businesses never see an OSHA inspector.

Of course, the reason why more inspections aren’t conducted is that OSHA has limited resources.

So, it’s no wonder why, when there is a disaster such as the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas that killed 15 people, the media focus on the fact that the plant hadn’t been visited by an OSHA inspector since 1985.

Now, there are a few reasons why that was the case involving the Texas facility.

But, here’s the obvious truth regarding OSHA inspections that involve process safety management and hazardous chemicals: These inspections take longer than many others.

With limited resources and a tradition of counting the number of inspections done by OSHA offices each year, what are the regulators to do?

Oh, OSHA will emphasize that there’s never been a quota system for inspections. In other words, regulators say no one ever told an OSHA regional office, “You must perform X-number of inspections this year.”

On the other hand, it’s also true that no one was saying to OSHA inspectors, “Go ahead and perform these more complicated, more time-consuming inspections. And if it means you conduct fewer inspections as a result, that’s OK.”

It appears that has just changed.

One inspection doesn’t always equal one inspection

At this year’s National Safety Council fall conference, OSHA chief David Michaels’ big announcement was that the agency, as of Oct. 1, OSHA was beginning a full roll-out of its new Enforcement Weighting System (EWS).

The system now uses multipliers to “give credit” for the more complicated and time-consuming inspections.

Michaels didn’t divulge the exact ins-and-outs of this system at the NSC conference.

But our sister publication Safety Compliance Alert confirmed with OSHA the “enforcement units” (multipliers) that will be used:

What does this mean?

It’s now more likely than before that these companies will receive OSHA inspections:

  • Those with previous violations, because the quickest way to rack up an OSHA fine of more than $100,000 is to have repeat violations that cost up to $70,000 each, and
  • Those where the following types of hazards are present: process safety, ergonomic, heat, exposure to hazardous chemicals, workplace violence and combustible dust.

What do most of the hazards listed above have in common? For many, OSHA either doesn’t have a standard at all (ergonomics, heat, workplace violence, combustible dust) or its standards are considered to be significantly outdated (permissible exposure limits).

Because something else that takes more time when it comes to OSHA inspections: Issuing violations under the General Duty Clause compared to those where an OSHA standard exists.

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