• OSHA to Inspect 41,000 Workplaces this Year
  • June 21, 2012 | Authors: John D. Surma; Collin G. Warren
  • Law Firm: Adams and Reese LLP - Houston Office
  • Background

    It is estimated that there are 111 million workplaces in the United States. The US Department of Labor - OSHA is responsible for roughly 7 million of those workplaces, and by their own acknowledgement, cannot inspect all of them. In fact, OSHA estimates it will inspect around 41,000 workplaces in 2012 (just over half of one percent of all workplaces). As a consequence, OSHA has prioritized their inspections in the following order (highest to lowest priority): Imminent danger, catastrophe and/or fatality, complaints, referrals, follow-up inspections, and programmed inspections (i.e., National Emphasis Program workplaces). OSHA has not historically engaged in random workplace inspections.

    Potential Change

    On May 17, 2012, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) posted two articles on its website reporting that random inspections improve workplace safety. Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award, posted an entry on his blog concerning this article on May 21, 2012. In that blog posting, Dr. Michaels said:

    ““OSHA doesn’t kill jobs; it helps prevent jobs from killing workers.”

    I have been promoting that message since I became head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration almost three years ago. It is supported by empirical evidence-and now-it’s been confirmed by a peer-reviewed study published in Science, one of the world’s top scientific journals. Not only that, the new study, conducted by professors at the University of California and Harvard Business School, shows that OSHA inspections save billions of dollars for employers through reduced workers compensation costs.

    The fact is OSHA inspections save lives and jobs at the same time. This is not a surprise to me. I regularly hear from employers, both large and small, that they value OSHA inspections and treat the inspector as an additional, expert set of eyes.

    The findings should finally put an end to the criticisms that OSHA inspections make running a business more expensive without adding value. The results are in: OSHA saves lives and jobs!"

    In 2012, OSHA received $7.2 million more than it received in 2011, but the majority of the increased funding came from a $6.4 million boost to compliance assistance programs. Funding for whistleblower enforcement also rose slightly, with a $1.1 million increase over its 2011 funding level. OSHA’s budget request for 2013 would maintain current funding levels, with some movement of money from program to program.

    While OSHA’s budgetary request for 2013 had not increased, the request was submitted several months prior to the issuance of this article. It seems quite likely that OSHA will use the articles presented by AAAS, and the proposition that random audits are of significant value to employers, to increase its budgetary request and/or to secure authorization to shift monies towards randomized inspections (and the potential need for additional CHSOs). In any event, employers should be aware that random inspections are likely coming in the not too distant future. While, OSHA will posture these inspections as a “service” to employers, fines for serious violations of the OSH Act carry a potential $7,000 per violation penalty, while willful violations can carry up to a $70,000 penalty for such violations. Employers should be proactive in preparing for random inspections.