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OSHA Modifies Enforcement Priorities for 2014
 

By Roy Maurer  8/16/2013
 
 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cannot inspect all 7 million workplaces under its jurisdiction. Consequently, each year the agency seeks to refocus its inspection resources in a calculated manner. OSHA projects fewer employers will be inspected for safety violations in fiscal year 2014 so that inspectors can undertake investigations that are more comprehensive, according to the agency’s 2014 budget request.

In FY 2014, OSHA plans to conduct 39,250 federal inspections, of which 31,400 will be safety inspections and 7,850, health inspections.

The agency said it’s implementing a weighted system to rate inspections by their complexity, with the heaviest rating having the greatest impact on workplace safety and health.

“OSHA has already operated under the assumption that more inspections are better,” the agency said. “The problem with this model is that not all inspections are created equal, as some inspections take more time and resources to complete than the average or typical OSHA inspection.”

Here are the types of changes the agency is planning:

More health inspections. Facilities where emerging chemical and health issues are likely to arise are more likely to be inspected. OSHA plans to conduct 450 more health inspections than in FY 2013.

Fewer safety inspections. The FY 2014 goal is to conduct 2,200 fewer safety inspections than in this fiscal year.

Fewer inspections overall. OSHA is going to focus more on the quality of inspections than the quantity. Investigators plan to visit 1,711 fewer worksites than the 40,961 they inspected in FY 2012. OSHA estimates it will conduct about 41,000 inspections in FY 2013.

Also among the types of workplaces more likely to undergo an OSHA inspection are refineries and chemical plants and establishments where employees are vulnerable to workplace violence.

The proposed budget for enforcement is $207.8 million, or about 37 percent of the agency’s total spending (the same percentage as requested for FY 2013).

The agency will continue to use national and local emphasis programs to target high-risk hazards and industries for inspections.

Fewer State-Plan Inspections Scheduled

OSHA said state budget problems, not a change in inspection priorities, were responsible for the projected decrease in state-plan inspections.

The 27 state-plan agencies will conduct 50,350 inspections, about 1,000 fewer than in FY 2012.

“This will be a challenge as states continue to face budget constraints that have led to cuts, furloughs and reductions in force,” OSHA said.

Doing More with Less

The agency said it never really accounted for the resource needs of more complex inspections in its enforcement strategy. On average, a safety inspection takes 22 hours and a health inspection takes 34 hours. An ergonomics inspection can take hundreds of hours, while a process safety management inspection of an oil refinery can take 1,000-plus hours, according to OSHA.

“With the burden to conduct more and more inspections with possibly fewer resources over the next several years, field personnel will continue to find themselves forced to conduct less-time-intensive, shorter inspections, such as multiple-employer construction sites, rather than the more complicated inspections,” the agency explained. “Under the current system, the only incentive for a compliance officer is to meet the inspection goals, as there is no incentive for them to do the larger, more complicated inspections.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

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