Workplace Safety and Health:

OSHA Can Strengthen Enforcement through Improved Program Management

GAO-03-45: Published: Nov 22, 2002. Publicly Released: Nov 22, 2002.

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The United States has made great progress in improving working conditions since the construction of the Empire State Building. Yet, since the early 1990s, over 50,000 workers have died from work-related accidents and millions experience work-related injuries or illnesses each year. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the primary federal agency responsible for protecting workplace safety and health. GAO was asked to assess how well OSHA was able to target its enforcement resources on hazardous worksites, measure its accomplishments, and ensure inspection staff quality.

OSHA has taken important steps toward targeting its enforcement resources on hazardous worksites, measure its accomplishments, and enhance the professionalism of its staff. However, these systems could be strengthened by better information and mechanisms that would make targeting efforts more efficient, measurement more precise, and training efforts more effective. OSHA's targeting processes have not fully ensured that it identifies hazardous worksites for priority inspection because its worksite-targeting programs lack the necessary data to effectively identify high-hazard worksites or those with hazards under OSHA's jurisdiction. Also, OSHA's measurement efforts did not accurately demonstrate its impact on workplace safety and health because, for example, it used national data on injuries and illnesses to measure its progress in achieving strategic goals even though only 31 states are covered by these goals. Finally, OSHA's efforts to enhance the quality of its inspection workforce have the potential to improve enforcement, but the anticipated outcomes could be jeopardized by a lack of necessary mechanisms, such as a training directive that reflects current plans, or a comprehensive database that tracks training or skills obtained by inspection staff.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of June 2003, OSHA has gained access to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management (OASAM) training database. OSHA managers now place information on employee training onto that database and have access to the information and reports available through that database. All regional offices are required to use the OASAM training database, although OSHA acknowledges that some regional managers may also maintain separate stand-alone computer files.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that OSHA's efforts to improve inspector quality achieve their potential outcomes, the Secretary of Labor should direct OSHA to work with Labor's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management to develop an information system to track and assess training and skills obtained by the inspection staff. This could include developing a new system or adapting existing systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OSHA's Training Institute has redesigned the curriculum of its training program to better prepare compliance safety and health officers with the core competencies and skills needed to do their jobs. In concert with this redesign, OSHA updated its training directive, per GAO's recommendation. In doing so, OSHA's expectations and policies regarding inspector quality are consistent.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that OSHA's efforts to improve inspector quality achieve their potential outcomes, the Secretary of Labor should direct OSHA to update OSHA's training directive to reflect its current training strategy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In developing its fiscal year 2006 Operations Plan, OSHA prepared an assessment of supervisory competencies. The agency's goal in doing this was to promote more effective agency operations. OSHA's action is responsive in that its assessment of supervisory competencies would reflect best practices and would be disseminated throughout the agency.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that OSHA's efforts to improve inspector quality achieve their potential outcomes, the Secretary of Labor should direct OSHA to review area office efforts to develop alternative supervisory review procedures in order to identify promising practices and disseminate results to other offices.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 2003, OSHA had begun an evaluation of its Site-Specific Targeting Program. OSHA issued the results of this evaluation during the summer of 2004.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that OSHA gets the greatest benefit out of its targeting programs, the Secretary of Labor should direct OSHA to assess the site-specific targeting program's impact on workplace injuries and illnesses in light of the resources expended.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2004, OSHA solicited public comments on a proposal to update its Site Specific Target Program, including the underlying data. In August 2005, after reviewing the comments it received, OSHA issued a new directive that, among other things, seeks to strengthen the validity of the data used to identify worksites for targeting. OSHA states that it took into consideration the findings and recommendations contained in GAO's November 2002 report on OSHA enforcement practices in developing this new directive.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that OSHA gets the greatest benefit out of its targeting programs, the Secretary of Labor should direct OSHA to strengthen the validity of the data used to identify worksites in the site-specific targeting program by addressing the data weaknesses identified in this report.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, OSHA created a Construction Targeting Task Force that gives guidance to area offices on selecting small construction sites for inspection. In OSHA's 2003-2008 strategic plan the agency includes approaches that emphasize local efforts to inspect smaller worksites. In order to achieve this goal, each OSHA Regional Office has established Local Emphasis Enforcement Programs, many of which address hazards associated with small construction sites.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that OSHA gets the greatest benefit out of its targeting programs, the Secretary of Labor should direct OSHA to encourage area offices to supplement inspections of large construction worksites with locally planned efforts to inspect smaller worksites.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, OSHA and BLS have had ongoing discussions about the tYpes of data BLS can provide to OSHA to help it better assess the success of its enforcement program. For example, BLS now provides data to OSHA for state-plan and OSHA states separately, which allows OSHA to see differences between states under its authority and those under state authority. Although BLS and OSHA explored other alternatives for collecting data (for example, to take out establishments or industries with little OSHA authority), they determined that, in this current environment, such changes would be too costly or prohibitive, and would affect the validity of the information collected.

    Recommendation: To enhance OSHA's ability to more precisely measure its impact from the strategic planning process, the Secretary of Labor should encourage OSHA and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to work together to obtain the necessary data to understand those injuries, illnesses, and fatalities occurring in areas covered by the strategic plan or under OSHA's authority. This could include exploring additional ways of analyzing existing BLS data or exploring the costs of collecting additional information that would allow state-level estimates.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

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