According to a recent news release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries occurred last year. Although this number continues to decrease (slowly) over time, 2.8 million is still a lot of potentially preventable trips to the emergency room. As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is asking the question, “What can we do to further reduce injuries in the workplace?”
Research by the Institute for Work & Health tells us that citations and penalties from OSHA inspections do in fact help reduce workplace injuries. And in a recent Safety + Health blog article, Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels cites research indicating that workplaces inspected by OSHA see a 25 percent reduction in injury rates over a four-year period. But therein lies the problem: The United States has more than 130 million workers to protect in 7 million workplaces and just 2,000 OSHA compliance inspectors to help with enforcement. That’s a daunting ratio of 1 inspector for every 3,500 workplaces.
To address this challenge, OSHA is refocusing its efforts when it comes to on-site inspections. In this article, we’ll discuss what’s changing and share everything you need to know to keep your company in good safety standing.
THE NEW ENFORCEMENT
In early October, Michaels published an article on the U.S. Department of Labor blog about upcoming changes to how OSHA handles inspections. In the article—entitled “A Better Way to Plan for Safety and Health Inspections”—Michael shares that not all inspections are created equal:
“The reality is that some required far more time and resources than others. For example, the inspection of an oil refinery or a chemical manufacturing facility is more complex and time-consuming than one of a trenching site. Those complex inspections make a big difference – showing employers, and the whole country, that we are determined to investigate serious hazards regardless of how complex or challenging those inspections may be.”
In 2014, OSHA conducted 36,163 inspections. States that administer their own health and safety plans conducted another 47,217. Moving forward in 2016, OSHA is changing its strategy for administering inspections by “giving greater weight to those that require more time and resources.” According to Michaels the new protocol is designed to better plan for and measure the impact of inspections. It even comes with a new unit of measurement.
The new Enforcement Weighting System assigns values—based on historical data—in Enforcement Units. A routine inspection may be valued at one Enforcement Unit, while more complex inspections could be valued as high as eight Enforcement Units. With this system, OSHA is less likely to forgo a complex, time-consuming inspection simply in an effort to complete more (easy) inspections each year. This system will also help ensure that sufficient resources are allocated to the cases that require them.
THE “SO WHAT?”
Due to these new inspection priorities, some industries and businesses that OSHA previously avoided for being too complex may come under more scrutiny in 2016. An OSHA inspections fact sheet shares that the agency will focus its resources on the most hazardous workplaces in the following order of priority:
- Imminent danger situations (Hazards that are capable of causing death or serious physical harm)
- Severe injuries and illnesses
- Worker complaints
- Targeted inspections (Aimed at specific high-hazard industries or workplaces that have high rates of injuries)
- Follow-up inspections
EXPECT THE INSPECTION
Whether your company is more or less likely to be subject of an OSHA inspection based on these changes, it’s still important to be prepared for an on-site inspection.
Here’s what you can expect:
- Preparation: Assigned OSHA compliance officers will research the inspection history of your worksite and review the standards most likely to apply at your workplace. They also gather any personal protective equipment (so get your cut-resistant gloves ready!) and testing instruments needed to measure potential hazards.
- Opening: After presenting his or her credentials, the compliance officer will explain why OSHA selected your workplace for inspection and outline the scope and procedure of the inspection. You may select a representative to accompany the officer during the inspection.
- Walk-around: During the walk-around, the compliance officer will inspect for hazards that could lead to injury or illness. He or she will also be looking for the posting of the official OSHA poster and interviewing employees.
- Closing: The inspection ends with a closing “conference” during which the compliance officer will discuss the findings and possible courses of action.
The hope for the new changes to OSHA’s inspection policy is that the agency will be able to focus its resources on more meaningful inspections, potentially the ones that will have the greatest impact on reducing workplace injury and illness. As with any new system, Michaels says that they “will continue to monitor this approach and make adjustments as needed.” And of course, we’ll keep you posted as those changes are made, so you’re always informed and prepared when it comes to safety in the workplace.