Occupational Safety & Health:

OSHA Policy Changes Needed to Confirm That Employers Abate Serious Hazards

HRD-91-35: Published: May 8, 1991. Publicly Released: May 23, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO assessed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) policies and procedures for confirming whether employers abated hazards it identified during inspections.

GAO found that: (1) OSHA policies and procedures lacked a regulatory requirement that employers provide evidence of abatement; (2) at least one-fourth of the follow-up inspections OSHA conducted in fiscal year (FY) 1989 found that employers failed to correct known hazards; (3) OSHA lacked adequate procedures to resolve abatement confirmation problems posed by the often short duration of construction activities; (4) OSHA directed more than half its inspections to construction activities, since the construction industry had the highest serious injury rate and the third-highest fatality rate; and (5) although 55 percent of OSHA FY 1989 inspections were of construction sites, only 20 percent of all follow-up inspections were of construction sites.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OSHA issued the abatement verification regulation (29 C.F.R. 1903) on March 31, 1997. The regulation requires employers, effective May 30, 1997, to certify to OSHA that the abatement of hazards cited during an inspection has been completed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should direct OSHA to promulgate a regulation requiring employers to submit detailed evidence of what corrective actions have been taken to abate hazards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO's recommendation sought to improve OSHA's ability to ensure that employers take corrective measures to abate identified workplace safety and health hazards. OSHA's actions satisfied the intent of this recommendation. OSHA issued an Abatement Verification Final Rule that specifies what requirements employers must follow to certify that they have abated an identified hazard. In the rule, OSHA also required that any movable equipment subject of a citation remains tagged as a hazard until the hazard has been abated, which prohibits employers from merely moving a piece of equipment as a way to abate the hazard. OSHA further required, in a May 1998 directive supporting the Abatement Verification Rule, that even when employers abate a hazard by closing a site or completing a construction project, they must certify that the hazard has been abated. OSHA will only allow site closures as an acceptable method of abatement without certification if OSHA has directly verified the site closure.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should direct OSHA to revise its policies so that: (1) citations to employers at construction work sites require correcting the condition, equipment, or procedure that created the hazard; and (2) abatement cannot be achieved solely by moving to another location if the cited condition, equipment, or procedure would be likely to create a hazard at the new location.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

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