How are companies currently targeted for OSHA inspections when there hasn’t been a serious incident or a complaint? They inspect facilities with self-reported higher-than-industry average injury rates. But is there a better way to target the companies most at risk of having a major incident?
The University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Program on Regulation is studying possible updates for OSHA inspection policies.
In a recent blog post, the program’s Executive Director, Adam Finkel, writes that he and his colleagues are trying to use modern methods of statistical analysis, including the concept of “predictive policing.”
In January 2013, as it does every year, OSHA announced its inspection plan under its Site-Specific Targeting (SST) program. Here’s an example of how it works. Manufacturing establishments with a Days Away/Restricted or Transfer Rate DART rate at or above 7.0 or a Days Away From Work (DAFWII) case rate at or above 5.0 (only one of these criteria must be met).
You’d think that by targeting the facilities with the highest injury rates, OSHA would uncover companies with significant safety deficiencies. OSHA’s own data shows that’s often not the case.
Finkel hypothesizes there are better red flags that OSHA could use:
- indicators of financial turmoil
- violations of other federal regulations, such as EPA’s, and
- other measures such as sales growth and ownership changes.
Some early results from the program’s work already show a connection with violations of EPA regs.
Knowing which companies are most in violation of EPA regs could lead OSHA to facilities with more safety problems.
The Penn researchers compared OSHA citations for four categories of facilities:
- those EPA never inspected
- those EPA found to be in full compliance
- those occasionally out of EPA compliance during the previous three years, and
- those found in violation of one or more EPA regs most or all of the time.
Result: The OSHA penalties were higher the more non-compliant the facility was with EPA regs. OSHA found workplace conditions more than five times more severe at the sites with recurring EPA problems compared to sites EPA didn’t even feel a need to inspect.
Finkel’s group will also study this from another angle by looking at facilities where OSHA investigated worker fatalities. They will determine whether there were warning signs that should have sent OSHA to these facilities in the immediate years before the fatality occurred.