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Kline, Walberg: OSHA Must Improve Oversight of Its Safety Enforcement

U .S. House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Workforce Protections Subcommittee Chairman Tim Walberg (R-MI) responded today to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that identified weaknesses in how the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) monitors its enforcement activities. The report was requested by committee leaders in 2011 and is the second independent evaluation of the agency’s safety program in recent years.

“OSHA is charged with enforcing health and safety standards in 8 million worksites, yet it still doesn’t have an effective way to determine whether its policies actually work,” said Chairman Kline and Rep. Walberg. “Rather than devote precious resources to unnecessary regulatory schemes, the agency should develop a strategy that can identify strengths and weaknesses in its enforcement practices. Until then, we cannot be certain we are providing workers the safety they deserve. The persistent challenges facing OSHA’s enforcement policies must come to an end.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Act empowers states to administer their own workplace safety programs if they are “at least as effective” as the federal safety program. This has provided states with the ability to more adequately address the safety needs of its workplaces. A March 2011 report by the Department of Labor’s Inspector General found OSHA was unable to evaluate the impact of its own enforcement policies and therefore is unable to determine the effectiveness of state safety plans. Following a hearing on the Inspector General’s findings, Chairman Kline and Rep. Walberg requested GAO conduct a comprehensive review of OSHA’s enforcement programs.

Key findings in the GAO report include:
  • Enforcement audits of OSHA’s regional offices are not conducted independently. Instead of adhering to generally accepted government auditing standards, regional office staff organize, manage, and complete individual audits of each region.
  • Audits of regional offices are conducted with little input from the national office. In fact, no national office staff participated in any of the comprehensive audits of the 10 regional offices – in direct contravention of a 2011 agency directive.
  • Agency guidance on what must be included in the audits of state-run safety programs has changed each year. As the GAO report notes, “not having consistent guidelines on audits of state-run programs” can undermine the ability to “identify problem areas and help states address them.
  • OSHA continues to rely upon the number of citations and size of violations to help determine the effectiveness of its enforcement activities, rather than the number of workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses. As a result, it is unclear how OSHA will be able to identify enforcement policies that truly promote safer workplaces.
  • In its revised fiscal year 2011 operating plan, OSHA acknowledged that it had not devoted substantial resources to evaluate its enforcement activities. Therefore, the agency knows little about the effectiveness of its policies, programs, and strategies.

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