OSHA is not currently ensuring it has enough information on work-related deaths and severe injuries and is failing to consistently cite establishments that do not file required reports, according to a report released by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
The OIG carried out an audit to determine if OSHA had successfully implemented new requirements, including rules instructing employers to report any work-related amputation, in-patient hospitalization, or loss of an eye to OSHA within 24 hours, and fatalities within 8 hours. Although a 2014 OSHA rule required employers to inform OSHA about work-related fatalities and severe injuries and illnesses, OSHA’s records of these incidents were found to be unsatisfactory, and there is no proof that employers removed hazards that caused these incidents; therefore, OSHA previously closed cases without evidence that corrective action had been taken.
In the report, released on September 13 by the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Inspector General (OIG), it was noted that 4,185 fatalities and 23,282 severe injuries were reported to OSHA under the new requirements between January 2015 and April 2017. However, David Michaels, the former Assistant Secretary, estimated that at least 50% of reportable fatalities or injuries were not reported in the first year following the revised rule.
According to the OIG, auditors carefully tested the reliability of data from 3,642 reported fatalities and 18,805 severe injuries from OSHA’s 10 regions from the beginning of 2015 until the end of September 2016. The auditors then compared the data with the fatality and severe injury data on the agency’s website. They also looked at whether employers had reduced hazards and assessed OSHA’s procedures for identifying unreported injuries.
The OIG found that “OSHA did not know the total number of work-related fatalities and severe injuries, and had limited assurance employers abated hazards properly.” The OIG also uncovered a “lack of guidance and training on how to detect and prevent underreporting,” along with inconsistency when issuing citations to late reporters. This shows that that OSHA does not have enough information to direct its enforcement and compliance assistance actions.
“We attributed these findings to OSHA not issuing formal guidance and training for detecting and preventing underreporting of work-related fatalities and severe injuries,” wrote the OIG. “How to detect and prevent underreporting was left to the discretion of each OSHA regional and area office, resulting in inconsistent practices and effort.”
The results of the audit led the OIG to conclude that, although OSHA took steps to publicize the new guidelines, and conducted 10,475 on-site inspections based on employer-reported fatalities and severe injuries, the agency was also inconsistent in its practices for dealing with underreporting and did not provide evidence to explain instances where citations were not issued.
Based on its investigation, the OIG made recommendations to OSHA, including the following:
- Develop formal guidelines and train staff on identifying underreporting.
- Consistently issue citations to all those who fail to file reports on time.
- Clarify guidance on gathering evidence to show employers have corrected all hazards, and monitor employer-conducted inspections.
- Emphasise the importance of conducting inspections on all Category 1 incidents.
In a response written by acting leader Loren Sweatt, OSHA agreed that “that better case documentation” could promote uniformity in the issuing of citations. However, Sweatt also disagreed with suggestions that the “burden to ensure reporting of injuries and illnesses falls on the agency” rather than employers.
OSHA said it would seek to improve case file documentation and take steps towards more accurate reporting. However, OSHA disputed recommendations relating to issuing citations for late reporting and conducting inspections for Category 1 incidents. OSHA also stated that it is not clear what more could be done to prevent underreporting through the use of formal guidance or training.