Worker Protection:

OSHA Inspections at Establishments Experiencing Labor Unrest

HEHS-00-144: Published: Aug 31, 2000. Publicly Released: Aug 31, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed worker protection, focusing on: (1) the extent to which employers experiencing labor unrest are more likely to be inspected than employers not experiencing labor unrest; and (2) whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has policies for performing inspections during labor unrest and whether these policies are followed.

GAO noted that: (1) establishments experiencing labor unrest are about 6.5 times more likely to be inspected by OSHA than establishments not experiencing labor unrest (8.6 percent inspected compared with about 1.3 percent) during fiscal years (FY) 1994 through 1998; (2) the statutory requirement that OSHA investigate valid complaints and OSHA's policy to investigate a fatality or catastrophe may be related to the higher rate of inspection for establishments experiencing labor unrest; (3) about 68 percent of the approximately 1,900 OSHA inspections conducted each year at establishments experiencing labor unrest resulted from complaints, fatalities, or catastrophes; (4) in contrast, only about 27 percent of the approximately 100,000 total inspections OSHA conducted each year resulted from complaints, fatalities, or catastrophes; (5) about 76 percent of the establishments with labor unrest that were inspected by OSHA from FY 1994 through FY 1998 were unionized, as compared with about 24 percent of all establishments inspected by OSHA over this period; (6) while it did not appear that unionized establishments were in general more likely to receive a complaint-based inspection than nonunionized establishments, GAO's analysis did find that, among establishments experiencing labor unrest, there were a higher proportion of complaint-based inspections at unionized establishments than at nonunionized establishments; (7) OSHA's policy concerning inspections during labor unrest provides discretion for programmed inspections; (8) OSHA may delay programmed inspections during periods of labor unrest, such as a strike, which would prevent OSHA inspectors from witnessing actual work operations; (9) however, OSHA officials said that it has rarely delayed these inspections; and (10) statutory requirements or OSHA's long-standing policy dictate that inspections resulting from valid complaints, fatalities, or catastrophes--which accounted for the majority of OSHA's inspections at establishments with labor unrest during FY 1994 through FY 1998--must be performed, regardless of whether labor unrest exists.

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