Occupational Safety & Health:

Options for Improving Safety and Health in the Workplace

HRD-90-66BR: Published: Aug 24, 1990. Publicly Released: Sep 7, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) policies or procedures that might better accomplish the Occupational Safety and Health Act's goal of providing safe and healthy workplaces; (2) options that Congress and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) could consider to improve occupational safety; and (3) OSHA regulatory strategies.

GAO found that: (1) the OSHA regulatory strategy emphasized workplace inspections for compliance with health and safety standards; (2) in fiscal year 1989, OSHA spent about three-quarters of its $248-million appropriation on standard-setting and enforcement activities; (3) due to limited staff, OSHA rarely inspected employers in high-hazard industries; (4) OSHA civil and criminal sanctions provided limited deterrence to employer noncompliance; (5) OSHA relied on employers' verification of hazard abatement, without requiring any evidence; (6) employers had little incentive to promptly abate the hazards OSHA inspectors identified; (7) safety and health standards failed to cover existing workplace hazards or keep pace with new ones; (8) many employers and workers lacked workplace hazard information; and (9) OSHA minimally involved workers in improving workplace safety and health, and employers often limited their compliance efforts, rather than attempting to prevent hazards. GAO believes that OSHA could strengthen the enforcement of standards and the role of employers and workers by: (1) responding to various standard-setting recommendations; (2) increasing the probability of hazardous worksite inspection and imposing stricter penalties for violations; (3) requiring employers to abate identified hazards; (4) strengthening training and education efforts; (5) requiring workplace safety programs and committees; and (6) increasing worker participation in the inspection process.

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