‘Fewer’ Inspectors, ‘Less’ Enforcement: OSHA ‘Trend Raises Risks’ For Workers - Are Fewer OSHA Safety Inspectors ‘Putting Workers At Risk?’
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - A new study of U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration data since 2016 suggests that record-keeping sleight of hand is masking a significant drop in major cases arising from inspections and the costly penalties that help deter employers from cutting corners.
On the surface, OSHA reports a similar number of inspections in recent years, says Researcher Deborah Berkowitz, formerly a Senior Policy Adviser at OSHA who now directs the Worker Health and Safety Program at the National Employment Law Center in Washington, D.C.
“But digging just a bit beneath the surface, it becomes clear that this is a false narrative and that the agency is prioritizing quantity over quality, in an effort to disguise what is really going on,” Berkowitz writes.
What’s going on in large part is that the ranks of OSHA Inspectors, officially called Compliance Officers, are at a historic low.
“OSHA’s inspection resources are so limited that it would take the agency more than one hundred and fifty years to visit every workplace under its jurisdiction just once,” Berkowitz said.
In 2010, according to the report, OSHA had 1,016 Inspectors, virtually the same number it had three decades earlier.
By 2016, the agency was down to 952 inspectors.
By January 1st, 2019, it had dropped to 875.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta told a House Appropriations Subcommittee in early April that OSHA hired 76 new inspectors in 2018, but none were hired earlier in the Trump Administration and the Employees training now can’t conduct field investigations on their own for three years.
Meanwhile, attrition continues.
“They are deep in the hole of hiring, and the vacancies are sitting there,” Berkowitz told the IBEW. “They have also changed how hiring is done, and that has slowed the process down.”
Overall, Workplace Fatalities fell slightly in 2017, the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but at 5,147 deaths, the tally was still the second-highest tally in nine years.
BLS numbers are always larger than OSHA’s, as they cover more industries and include Work-Related Vehicle Fatalities.
Federal OSHA is responsible for most construction and general industry worksites in 29 States. Others have State-based programs.
Last year’s BLS statistics won’t be published until December, but OSHA data for 2018 show that it investigated 921 fatalities and catastrophes, a classification for incidents that hospitalize three or more workers. That’s 10% more than in 2017 and the highest number in a decade. Yet, the agency is conducting fewer of the inspections crucial to preventing deaths, injuries and illnesses on the job.
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