Occupational Safety and Health:

Violations of Safety and Health Regulations by Federal Contractors

HEHS-96-157: Published: Aug 23, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 3, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined federal contractors' compliance with federal occupational safety and health regulations.

GAO found that: (1) federal contracts are awarded to employers violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA); (2) in fiscal year (FY) 1994, 261 federal contractors received penalties of at least $15,000 for violating OSHA regulations; (3) 5 percent of these contractors received more than $500 million in federal contracts; (4) contract violations typically occurred at worksites with fewer than 500 employees and at manufacturing plants; (5) federal contractors received $38 billion in contract dollars for FY 1994; (6) most of the contract violations involved companies' failure to protect their workers from electrical hazard or injury; (7) the actual penalties assessed during contractor worksite inspections totalled $10.9 million; (8) in 8 percent of those inspections, the contractor received a penalty of at least $100,000; (9) some of the federal contractors participated in the OSHA Voluntary Compliance Program; (10) OSHA contracting and debarring officials use safety and health compliance information to make their award decisions; and (11) federal contractors would be more attentive to their safety and health practices if OSHA gave greater priority to those high-hazard workplaces operated by federal contractors.

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: The Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to develop and implement policies and procedures, in consultation with GSA and the Interagency Committee on Debarment and Suspension, for how safety and health records of federal contractors could be shared to better inform agency awarding and debarring officials in their decisions regarding contracts in order to improve workplace safety and health.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OSHA placed company inspection records on the Internet, making available to GSA, the Committee, and other federal agencies the inspection histories of companies that may now or in the future seek federal contracts. OSHA said that this action should close this recommendation and deferred to the Committee for any further response. This does not fully respond to the recommendation, as the publication and existence of such information is neither a policy nor a procedure to ensure the appropriate sharing of information to better inform agency officials in their decisions regarding contracts. OSHA's response reflects why it continues to be difficult to ensure that the government is not awarding contracts to known safety and health violators; OSHA is placing the onus for review of inspection information and decisions based on that information to other agencies rather than using its position to lead efforts to develop ways to ensure that violators are not awarded federal contracts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary Of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to develop policies and procedures regarding whether and how it will consider a company's status as a federal contractor in setting priorities for inspecting worksites.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In August 1998, OSHA said that a company's status as a federal contractor should not increase or decrease the likelihood of an OSHA inspection. OSHA continues to believe that the appropriate method for assigning priority for inspections is based on high injury and illness rates, regardless of whether these companies are federal contractors. As a result, OSHA is not likely to develop any particular policies for whether or how it will consider a company's status as a federal contractor in setting priorities for inspections. While GAO would agree that employers with high injury and illness rates deserve inspection priority, it is also reasonable to expect that, within this group, those who are federal contractors could be given greater priority for inspection on the principle that, because they receive federal monies, they not only should be held more accountable for adhering to safety and health practices, but OSHA should have greater knowledge about any safety and health violations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to assess the appropriateness of extending these policies and procedures to cover companies receiving other forms of federal financial assistance, such as grants and loans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Because OSHA has not taken sufficient action on related recommendations that provided the basis for this recommendation, any action taken by OSHA for this recommendation would also not be fully responsive.

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