Pace of OSHA Inspections, Citations So Far in Fiscal Year 2010 Is Highest Ever

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration so far in fiscal year 2010 is on track to significantly outpace its enforcement performance in previous years across a range of actions, Richard Fairfax, OSHA’s deputy assistant administrator, said during an April 28 panel discussion at the National Labor College. 

Roughly halfway through the fiscal yearOSHA has performed 21,522 inspections, putting it on pace to best the 39,004 inspections conducted in fiscal 2009, which was the most inspections OSHA had ever performed, Fairfax said. 

Midway through fiscal 2010OSHA is also “way ahead of where we’ve ever been” in total violations, with 52,350, putting the agency on pace to exceed 100,000 by the end of the fiscal year, Fairfax said. OSHA’s previous record was 87,663, set in fiscal 2009, he added. 

Rate of in-compliance inspections OSHA had conducted was at 19 percent midway through fiscal 2010, the lowest it had ever been, Fairfax said. In fiscal 2009 the rate was 25 percent. A low in-compliance rate means OSHA is properly directing its enforcement resources at workplaces that are violating some part of the Occupational Safety and Health Act or regulations, according to Fairfax. 

Eighty-two percent of the violations cited so far in fiscal 2010 were serious, willful, or repeat, which also is the highest rate for those types of violations in agency history, Fairfax said. In fiscal 2009, the rate for the year was 81 percent. 

High Number of Significant CasesOSHA handled 75 “significant” enforcement cases halfway through fiscal 2010, Fairfax said, putting it on track for a total of more than 150 by the end of the fiscal year. Significant cases are those with penalties exceeding $100,000, Fairfax said. In fiscal 2009, OSHA had handled 120 significant cases. 

So far in fiscal 2010The agency has issued nine egregious citations after issuing just four in all of 2009, Fairfax said. In both 1987 and 1988, however, OSHA issued 30 egregious citations. OSHA cites an employer for each instance of a violation, or for each employee affected, under its egregious penalty policy. 

The number of fatality investigations was sharply down midway through fiscal 2010, at just 335, compared to the 797 in fiscal 2009 and 937 in fiscal 2008. But Fairfax stopped short of hailing a significant advance in worker safety, saying the economic recession could have contributed to the decline in fatalities. 

The most-cited standard in fiscal 2010 was scaffolding, Fairfax said. It was followed by fall protection, hazard communication, respiratory protection, ladders, lockout/tagout, electrical and wiring, powered industrial trucks, general electrical requirements, and process safety management. 

Future Focus on RecordkeepingIn a ceremony honoring fallen workers after the panel discussion, OSHA administrator David Michaels repeated his support for the Protecting America’s Workers Act (H.R. 2067, S. 1580) (77 DLR A-10, 4/24/09), which would raise penalties for violations of the OSH Act. 

Michaels also said OSHA compliance officers would begin to take a new, harder look at company records in future inspections. “We’re going to be looking at the books, and they had better be accurate,” Michaels said.

By Stephen. Lee