Michaels Focuses on Inspection Targeting As Key to Measuring OSHA Effectiveness

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National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health

Key Development: OSHA need to examine how it selects inspect targets.

Potential Impact: Changes to criteria for inclusion in site-specific targeting program.

By Stephen Lee AND Bruce Rolfsen  

Changes to how inspection targets get selected are being discussed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as a way to better measure the agency's effectiveness, David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, told an agency advisory committee June 20.

“How can we measure our effectiveness? … Are we targeting our inspections well?” Michaels asked as he discussed his concerns at a National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health meeting.

The issue arose at the first meeting of a new advisory committee that has been given the task of evaluating the effectiveness of OSHA and its programs, as requested by Michaels. On June 19, members of the workgroup said they needed more direction in order to carry out their charge.

“We need some guidance from the agency as to whether or not they want us to come in and re-envision their current strategy and approach, or whether they want help evaluating their current approach,” said Peg Seminario, safety and health director at AFL-CIO and the workgroup chair.

Workgroup member Joseph Van Houten, senior director of environment, health, and safety at Johnson and Johnson, agreed, saying June 19 that the group “needs a focus” because of the vagueness of the term “effectiveness.”

Michaels Buoyed by Studies.

In his June 20 remarks, Michaels said he was buoyed by recent studies on inspections in California and Pennsylvania that concluded inspections led to lower injury and illness rates. In California, inspections were found to result in lower worker medical costs without impairing employers' business performance (42 OSHR 469, 5/24/12; 42 OSHR 490, 5/31/12).

The Pennsylvania report found that the positive impact of citing a company for safety violations faded within three years, and that inspections based on complaints had little impact on employers.

As an example of how he wants OSHA to review its inspection selection criteria, Michaels pointed to the ongoing three-year review of the agency's site-specific targeting program (42 OSHR 7, 1/5/12).

Each year, OSHA selects for inspections about 2,500 work sites with higher-than-average injury and illness rates.

The study aims to determine what changes occur in injury rates after inspections and compare the results with the records of similar employers who were not inspected or received a letter warning that they could be inspected.

VPP, SHARP Programs Up for Discussion.

As potential subjects for new studies, Michaels mentioned looking at which types of complaints generate effective inspections and comparing the safety and health performance of companies participating in programs such as the Voluntary Protection Program and the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program with similar employers that do not participate.

“There has never been a rigorous examination of employers in recognition programs,” Michaels said.

Panel members had their own ideas of where OSHA should look.

Seminario proposed that OSHA measure the impact of the year-old campaign to warn people about the dangers of working in hot weather by tracking heat-related fatalities and looking at whether California's laws covering workplace heat issues produced better results than OSHA's informational campaign (42 OSHR 361, 4/19/12; 42 OSHR 426, 5/10/12).

Van Houten suggested that OSHA look at differences in injury rates and other measurements between states and regions and then determine what factors produced the different outcomes.

Other suggestions included reviewing an employer's OSHA Form 300 logs a year after the establishment was inspected and looking at differences between inspecting “non-fixed” workplaces such as construction sites and inspecting businesses that do not move with the work.

OSHA Calls for Guidance.

During the June 19 meeting, Deborah Berkowitz, OSHA's chief of staff, told the workgroup that the agency could especially benefit from guidance on whether its own periodic self-assessments target the right program areas, and whether those assessments are rigorous enough.

“We need to have a sense of what's working and what's not working,” Berkowitz said.

Currently, OSHA's self-assessments focus on three “buckets” of activities: standard-setting, enforcement, and compliance assistance.

In addition to the studies OSHA currently does, the agency is also beginning studies of the effectiveness of its site-specific targeting (SST) and consultation programs, Berkowitz said. The SST study is already underway, but the consultation program study has not been designed yet, according to Berkowitz.

On June 25, OSHA will hold a stakeholder meeting to field comments on how it should measure the effectiveness of state plans (42 OSHR 532, 6/14/12).

By Stephen Lee and Bruce Rolfsen