OSHA Enforcement Targeting Program Had Little Impact

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By Bruce Rolfsen

June 23 — A now-defunct OSHA enforcement program targeting employers because of their high injury and illness rates didn't have much effect in improving workplace safety, according to a report released June 23 by the Department of Labor.

The report focuses on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Site-Specific Targeting Program.

Under the program, which ended in 2015, OSHA annually sent letters to thousands of employers with injury and illness rates exceeding their industry's average, warning them they could be inspected and advising them to contact safety consultants to improve practices.

In the evaluation process, the study applied both a “randomized controlled trial” (RCT) design and a “regression discontinuity design” (RDD) to assess the impacts of the program, the report said.

“Neither of the studies detected any statistically significant impacts of the enforcement actions (high-rate letters and inspections) on health and safety outcomes,” the report said.

OSHA didn't respond June 23 to requests by Bloomberg BNA for comment.

The DOL-sponsored research goal was to determine whether employer rates for the number of days that injured or ill workers had spent away from their normal jobs—the “days away, restrictions and transfers” (DART) rate—decreased after receiving an OSHA letter or a receiving a letter and undergoing an inspection.

In cases where a worksite was inspected twice, the DOL examined whether the likelihood of finding violations on the second visit decreased.

No More Than 5 Percent

The report concluded that if there was a DART rate improvement, on average there was no more than a 5 percent decrease. In some samples, employer injury-illness rates increased, the report said.

After researchers looked at violation numbers, they concluded that receiving a letter and undergoing an inspection didn't make a large difference in the likelihood of inspectors finding violations on a second inspection.

In one sampling group, the likelihood of issuing violations declined from 77 percent for employers who hadn't received a letter or inspection to 70 percent for employers who had received a letter and an inspection.

That positive outcome was countered by results showing second inspection violation rates were higher for some employers.

OSHA ended the Site-Specific Targeting Program in 2015 after deciding to eliminate the OSHA Data Initiative (ODI), an annual survey of about 80,000 employers in high-hazard industries. The survey results were used to decide which employers would be inspected under the targeting program.

2017 Requirements

In 2017, OSHA will replace the ODI with a new requirement that about 440,000 employers annually submit injury and illness log information to the agency. That information can be used to guide inspection decisions.

The study was conducted by the research company Summit Consulting based in Washington, D.C.

The Summit authors said the inconclusive results could have been impacted by unforeseen problems such as private safety consultant companies contacting the targeted employers after OSHA published a list of companies scheduled to receive warning letters, unanticipated difficulties tracking employers for multiple years and OSHA's prohibition on conducting programmed inspections at the same business two years in a row.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at brolfsen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com .

For More Information

The Labor Department report is available at http://src.bna.com/gdn.

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