Occupational Safety and Health:

Changes Needed in the Combined Federal-State Approach

HEHS-94-10: Published: Feb 28, 1994. Publicly Released: Feb 28, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on ways to improve the combined federal/state approach to ensuring workplace safety and health, focusing on: (1) the adequacy of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) oversight of state-operated programs; and (2) program features warranting further consideration or broader use.

GAO found that: (1) OSHA has little information from which to make judgments about the outcomes and results of state programs; (2) while OSHA has made some improvements, it does not set priorities for key program measures, conduct annual audits, or follow up to ensure that states correct problems; (3) nine states require comprehensive worksite safety and health programs, which GAO has recommended that Congress consider as a federal requirement; (4) 14 states use worksite-specific injury and illness data in their occupational safety and health enforcement programs; (5) using worksite-specific data could improve OSHA inspection targeting, education and training, and program effectiveness evaluations; (6) OSHA and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) are working on ways to allow OSHA access to BLS worksite-specific data without compromising the independence and confidentiality of the BLS data collection process; (7) some states have greater authority to take action in imminent-danger situations than does OSHA, but GAO could not determine the consequences of this limitation on OSHA authority; and (8) all state-operated programs cover state and local government employees, while OSHA is legally prohibited from doing so.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To assess the quality of the data maintained by employers, OSHA is implementing a records audit program to conduct 250 record audits each year. During June and July 1997, OSHA conducted a pilot test of an audit protocol at 9 sites in three different locations, and it plans to conduct two training sessions on the use of the audit software and the recordkeeping requirements in late 1997. By late 1997, OSHA expects to have completed 50 record audits.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should require the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to implement OSHA procedures for ensuring that employers accurately record occupational injuries and illnesses.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OSHA has collected worksite-specific injury and illness data from employers and submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a program design for collecting the second year of these data for clearance and approval. The program design was published in the Federal Register on February 2, 1996, for public comment.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should require the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to develop procedures for OSHA to obtain worksite-specific injury and illness data from employers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 1994, OSHA completed action on revising the state-program monitoring and evaluation approach by requiring states to conduct internal audits and establishing more effective procedures to obtain state correction action on significant program issues. OSHA also implemented new activity measures incorporating absolute criteria and national goals where appropriate. OSHA is preparing to issue a report assessing the effectiveness of these measures for the first three quarters of fiscal year 1995.

    Recommendation: To more effectively carry out the department's statutory responsibility for oversight of state programs, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to revise the OSHA state program monitoring and evaluation approach by: (1) developing a set of outcome measures; (2) setting outcome goals and eliminating the "moving target" criteria; (3) requiring states to conduct internal audits; and (4) establishing more effective procedures to obtain state corrective action on significant issues.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OSHA has taken a number of actions that reflect GAO's recommended emphasis on measures of program outcomes and evaluations. Through the Government Performance and Results Act, it has developed a strategic plan that establishes three strategic goals and benchmarks for how OSHA will evaluate its progress meeting those goals. According to the plan, these goals establish the parameters against which the operation of the state-plan states will be evaluated. OSHA is also developing guidelines for states to use to develop their own strategic and annual performance plans, which will become part of the state grant application process in fiscal year 1999. OSHA has also been encouraging states to enter into voluntary performance agreements (which will become subsumed into the revised strategic planning process). These agreements provide a way to emphasize program outcome measures and assessment of the achievement of state-defined goals and outcomes.

    Recommendation: To more effectively carry out the department's statutory responsibility for oversight of state programs, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to emphasize measures of program outcome and evaluations of the effectiveness of specific program features as it assesses both its own activities and those of the state-operated programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OSHA officials continue to support extending its coverage to state and local government employees in non-state programs. However, the 104th Congress does not provide much support for extending OSHA coverage to state and local government. As such, agency officials reported that they are not taking any actions to promote coverage of public employers at this time. With respect to imminent dangers protection, agency officials believe they have sufficient authority to protect workers during imminent danger situations.

    Recommendation: To determine what, if any, changes are needed regarding coverage for state and local government employees and protections for workers in imminent danger situations, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to assess the need for change to: (1) extend OSHA coverage to state and local government employees in states without OSHA-approved safety and health programs; and (2) give OSHA greater authority to protect workers in imminent danger situations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

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