Workplace Safety and Health:

OSHA's Oversight of Its Civil Penalty Determination and Violation Abatement Processes Has Limitations

GAO-04-920: Published: Aug 13, 2004. Publicly Released: Aug 13, 2004.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Robert E. Robertson
(202) 512-9889
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

This report presents the findings of our study of the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) determination of civil penalties and abatement of violations. The objective of the study was to assess the extent of OSHA's oversight of the civil penalty determination and the violation abatement processes. In addition, we developed a statistical model, known as a multivariate analysis, to better understand factors that influenced variation in penalty amounts. On July 7, 2004, we briefed Labor officials on the results of our study. This letter report formally conveys the information we presented at that briefing. To assess the extent of OSHA's oversight of the civil penalty determination and violation abatement processes, we (1) reviewed 2002 and 2003 regional audits from the five regions with the most inspections, (2) visited one of these regional offices and one area office within this region to interview officials and review documents and procedures, (3) conducted telephone interviews with the four remaining regional offices and one area office within each of those regions, (4) interviewed OSHA officials to identify relevant policies and procedures, and (5) reviewed relevant policies and procedures. In addition, we explored another possible oversight technique--a quantitative multivariate analysis to better understand factors that influence variation in penalty amounts.

In summary, we found that OSHA's oversight for ensuring that penalties are correctly determined and violations are properly abated has limitations. While the national office receives copies of the regions' annual audits, it does not review them or use them to monitor the extent to which penalties are calculated correctly and violations are properly abated. The national office's underutilization of audit results may be problematic because audit results identified significant problems. For example, audits found that some area offices miscalculated penalties and failed to conduct required follow-up inspections to ensure the proper abatement of violations. Even if OSHA were to use the results of annual audits for oversight purposes, the information these audits provide may not always be complete. In fact, four of the five regional offices we reviewed did not conduct audits in full accordance with OSHA procedures during fiscal years 2002 and 2003. For example, one region did not routinely conduct any on-site audits, while two regions failed to include all of their area offices in their audit reviews.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In a recently published GAO report, we recommended that OSHA create a system to ensure that regions complete audits and that OSHA use audit results to improve the consistency of the complaint process. Consistent with those recommendations and on the basis of the findings presented here, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to ensure that regions complete audits in accordance with OSHA's required audit procedures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OSHA reported that its new Audit Directive became effective on October 1, 2005. The directive requires that all field offices and regional offices will have some type of audit (comprehensive, focused or follow-up) conducted each fiscal year. OSHA also indicated that each area office or Regional Office program will have a comprehensive, on-site audit at least once every four years. All regions submitted their initial annual audit work plans in FY 2006. Nationally, OSHA scheduled a total of 204 field office audits in FY 2006 (34 comprehensive, 27 follow-up, and 143 focused audits). Results of all audits are summarized and submitted to the OSHA National Office in accordance with the Audit Directive.

    Recommendation: In a recently published GAO report, we recommended that OSHA create a system to ensure that regions complete audits and that OSHA use audit results to improve the consistency of the complaint process. Consistent with those recommendations and on the basis of the findings presented here, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to monitor audit results in their overseeing of the civil penalty determination and violation abatement processes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2006, OSHA indicated its revised directive on audits became effective on October 1, 2005. OSHA noted that all comprehensive area office audits and certain focused or follow-up audits will address penalty determination and violation abatement processes. In November 2007, OSHA indicated that its field audit directive requires that a summary of each audit must be submitted to the Director of Evaluation and Analysis, for National Office review, within 30 days of completion and copies of the full audit reports and responses must be available to the Director upon request. OSHA also reported that enhancements to the field audit program contained in revisions to the directive, which became effective at the beginning of FY 2008, require the Directorate of Evaluation and Analysis to participate in a selected comprehensive on-site audit at least once per quarter in order to provide independent quality control. During FY 2006, the first full year of operation under OSHA Instruction EAA 01-00-002, OSHA noted that 189 audits of field offices were conducted, 34 of which were comprehensive, on-site audits and 155 of which were focused audits.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to evaluate the feasibility of using statistical modeling to help OSHA determine if penalties are being assessed correctly and identify if unanticipated factors are influencing penalty amounts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OSHA evaluated the feasibility of using statistical modeling in its oversight process. OSHA concluded that modeling of penalties would serve no instructional purpose that the field audit program that verifies compliance with the directives that lay out procedures for penalty setting does more effectively for consistency. Moreover, OSHA stated that the frequency sampling of regional offices requires that each region have a comprehensive audit every 4 years and that any inferences that a model would draw could not match the confidence level achieved by the audit. The agency noted that the audit is established and serves to verify field programs. That stated, OSHA responded to GAO's recommendation by updating the field audit directive to establish the frequency for comprehensive regional audits.

    Apr 9, 2014

    Mar 5, 2014

    Jan 23, 2014

    Dec 20, 2013

    Dec 6, 2013

    Dec 2, 2013

    Nov 4, 2013

    Jul 19, 2013

    Jul 2, 2013

    May 30, 2013

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here