Wednesday, November 7, 2012

OSHA to expand reach into small workplaces?

While OSHA inspections have given small employers a pass on enforcement visits, that may be about to change. According to a story on the Bloomberg BNA website, the findings of a recent study of OSHA by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Labor (OSHA's Site Specific Targeting Program Has Limitations on Targeting and Inspecting High-Risk Worksites), included recommendations that the agency expand its inspection focus to include smaller workplaces.

The USDOL OIG office raised questions about the focus and effectiveness of OSHA's Site-Specific Targeting (SST) program, a program which was established in 1999 to target general industry worksites reporting the highest injury and illness rates. The program targeted worksites based on injury and illness rates calculated from employer responses to the annual survey known as the OSHA Data Initiative (ODI) survey.

One OIG recommendations called for OSHA to expand the scope of it SST program to include worksites with eleven to nineteen workers, as opposed to the current minimum number of twenty.

The OIG report criticism of the effectiveness of the SST program argued that the focus on larger worksites meant the agency was skipping over a large number of high-risk worksites:

SST inspections excluded some of the highest risk industries and worksites where the most serious injuries and illnesses occurred because certain high-risk worksites were outside the scope of the SST program and targeted worksites were not always inspected. 
Specifically, we found that 26 percent of worksites with reported severe injuries and illnesses were outside the program’s scope based on their number of employees, location and/or industry. Additionally, 84 percent of targeted worksites were not inspected due to limited resources and competing local priorities and other targeting strategies. OSHA conducted SST inspections at 21 percent of SST targeted worksites. State plan states conducted SST inspections at 6 percent of worksites that met the Federal targeting criteria. As a result, the program targeted inspections to only a small portion of high-risk worksites nationwide.

The report also challenged the agency to broaden the data used to determine targeting of high-risk worksites.

These findings were challenged by the David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor, who "reportedly challenged many of conclusions of the Inspector General, citing needed policy changes that OSHA cannot control." Michaels also warned that changing the methodology for SST targeting "could weaken enforcement efforts in other areas."

Even though OSHA disputes that it can carry out everything in the OIG report, it's likely they'll make an effort to comply with at least some of the recommendations. As there weren't many recommendations in the report, employers can look for the agency to broaden its inspection reach in the future.


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