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Fewer Safety, More Health Inspections Proposed by Federal OSHA for 2014

Thursday, April 18, 2013
By Bruce Rolfsen

Fewer employers will be inspected for safety violations during fiscal 2014 so that federal compliance officers can spend more hours on complicated, time-consuming investigations, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says in its 2014 budget request.

The agency anticipates inspecting 1,711 fewer worksites than it did in 2012, according to the budget documents. That means for 2014, about 39,250 inspections will be conducted, compared with 40,961 in 2012. OSHA estimates it will conduct about 41,000 inspections in 2013.

To reach the 2014 goal, OSHA proposes to conduct 31,400 safety and 7,850 health inspections; that is 450 additional heath inspections and 2,200 fewer safety inspections than OSHA projects for 2013.

Among the types of workplaces more likely to undergo an OSHA inspection are refineries and chemical plants, facilities where “emerging chemical and health issues” could arise, and establishments where employees are vulnerable to workplace violence.

The proposed budget for enforcement is $207.8 million, or about 37 percent of OSHA spending, the same percentage as requested for 2013.

OSHA did not respond to BNA requests for additional information on the 2014 inspection program. In the proposed budget published April 10, the first reference to trimming inspections appears on page 19 of OSHA's budget justification. During an April 10 online briefing about Department of Labor agency spending, government officials did not discuss reducing inspections (43 OSHR 337, 4/11/13).

As far back as December 2011, David Michaels, the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, said the agency was willing to reduce overall inspection numbers in order to conduct more health inspections (42 OSHR 5, 1/5/12).

'Crossroads.'

OSHA acknowledges that the proposal to reduce inspections runs counter to past practices.

“With the agency now in its fifth decade, OSHA finds itself at a crossroads concerning how it will direct its enforcement resources,” the request says.

“OSHA has always operated under the assumption that 'more inspections are better' as the more establishments inspected, the greater OSHA's presence, and hence the greater the agency's impact. … The problem with this model is that not all inspections are created equal, as some inspections take more time and resources to complete than the average or typical OSHA inspection … .”

'Weighted' Inspections

OSHA is reducing the overall number of its inspections so the agency can implement a “weighted inspection system” that rates inspections by their complexity, the agency says.

“By rating the complexity of an inspection, it should provide an incentive for OSHA compliance officers and Area Offices to focus time and effort on more complex inspections (such as Process Safety Management) that ultimately will have a greater impact on workplace safety and health,” the request states.

On average, a safety inspection takes 22 hours and a health inspection 34 hours, the agency calculates. An ergonomics inspection can take hundreds of hours, and a process safety management inspection of an oil refinery can take over 1,000 hours. Under OSHA's current system, a 10-hour construction inspection is ranked the same as a 300-hour process safety management inspection.

'Doing It Better.'

Jim Stanley, who retired from OSHA as a deputy secretary in 1996 and is now president of the consulting firm FDRsafety LLC, said he does not object to OSHA's plan to reduce inspections, if the agency follows through on its plan to go where the worst hazards are.

“If they do this right--doing less, but doing it better--then I agree with this,” Stanley told BNA April 12.

Eric Frumin, safety and health director of the union-affiliated Change to Win, said an inspection program that thoughtfully selects workplaces is better than a program that stresses the number of inspections. “You can do a lot of inspections and still miss the boat,” he told BNA April 15.

State Plans Decrease

For enforcement under state plans, OSHA anticipates the 27 state-plan agencies will conduct 50,350 inspections, about 1,000 fewer inspection than in 2012.

OSHA says continuing state budget problems, not a change in inspection priorities, were responsible for the projected decrease.

“States continued to face severe budget constraints that have led to budget cuts, furloughs, and reductions in force,” OSHA says. “Although there was minimal program growth, State Plans continued to be limited in their ability to maintain the goal of operational parity with the federal program.”

To help pay for the state inspections, OSHA is asking Congress to approve $104.2 million for state enforcement, the same amount approved for 2013 before the budget sequester reduced the allocation.

By Bruce Rolfsen  


OSHA's proposed 2014 budget is available at http://www.dol.gov/dol/budget/2014/PDF/CBJ-2014-V2-12.pdf.

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