OSHA failed to collaborate with other federal agencies to help with its enforcement efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (OIG).
The audit, which was published March 31, says OSHA could have used other federal agencies to aid with inspections in certain high-hazard industries.
Because the number of OSHA inspectors has declined over the past decade, the pandemic offered “an opportunity for OSHA to realize collaborative potential with other federal agencies’ enforcement and oversight personnel to help protect workers from the contagion and prevent them from becoming casualties of the virus.”
But that didn’t happen, according to the OIG audit.
Complaints increase, inspections decrease
Despite receiving a sudden influx of complaints at the beginning of the pandemic, OSHA decreased its number of inspections to help reduce person-to-person contact.
That was especially true for onsite inspections.
The agency received 15% more complaints in 2020 than in 2019 but conducted 50% fewer inspections, which left employees vulnerable to COVID-19 as a workplace hazard.
The OIG audit states that if OSHA had cooperated with other federal agencies, certain high-risk industries would have been better served during the pandemic.
For example, for the meat-packing, healthcare and correctional industries, OSHA could have gotten help from the Food Safety Inspection Service, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Bureau of Prisons, respectively.
OSHA also didn’t have up-to-date agreements with other federal agencies that would have allowed for easier collaboration.
Outreach plan, enhancing collaboration
The audit recommends OSHA:
- develop an outreach plan that can be activated during large-scale safety and health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and
- explores mechanisms to enhance such collaboration and incorporate a process to use those mechanisms into the outreach plan.
OSHA insists it did collaborate
OSHA didn’t agree with the OIG audit, insisting that it did collaborate with other federal agencies in numerous ways, including through workgroups and meetings.
The agency also stated that other federal agencies have their own occupational safety and health responsibilities and authority for their own employees, including training them on occupational safety and health.
OSHA said those agencies can request assistance when needed.
“OSHA’s response did not change our conclusions in the report,” the OIG report states.