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DOL OIG report on OSHA: More complaints, fewer inspections during COVID-19 pandemic

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First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication.
OIG/OSHA logos -- jan72014

Washington — OSHA received 15% more complaints during the first nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic than it did during the same period in 2019 – but conducted 50% fewer inspections, according to a Department of Labor Office of Inspector General audit report released March 2.

DOL OIG reviewed complaint and inspection data from Feb. 1 to Oct. 26, 2020. OSHA received 23,447 complaints compared with 20,391 over the same span in 2019. The agency performed a little more than 13,000 inspections during that time in 2020 compared with 26,174 inspections over the same period in the previous year.

“As a result, there is an increased risk that OSHA is not providing the level of protection that workers need at various jobsites,” DOL OIG says.

Additionally, OSHA issued 295 COVID-19-related violations.

“With most OSHA inspections done remotely during the pandemic, workplace hazards may go unidentified and unabated longer, leaving employees vulnerable,” DOL OIG says. “OSHA’s onsite presence during inspections has historically resulted in timely mitigation efforts for at least a portion of the hazards identified.”

DOL OIG made four recommendations, including the consideration of an emergency temporary standard related to COVID-19. An Executive Order signed by President Joe Biden on Jan. 21 directed OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration to consider such ETSs and, if determined to be necessary, issue them by March 15.

“Having an ETS could be of importance during the pandemic as enforceable criteria because under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause, violations are rarely issued,” the report states, adding that in fiscal year 2019, OSHA issued 829 General Duty Clause violations compared with 62,229 violations for all other standards.

Only three of the 295 COVID-19-related violations fell under the General Duty Clause.

“According to OIG interviews, officials in area offices mostly agreed that having a standard, such as an ETS, would be useful during an inspection,” the report states.

DOL OIG also recommended OSHA:

  • Prioritize onsite inspections for high-risk employers during the pandemic.
  • Retroactively track remote inspections dating to Feb. 1, 2020. DOL OIG says OSHA previously didn’t track in its system whether an inspection was performed onsite or remotely.
  • “Compare remote inspections to onsite inspections and document analysis of the frequency and timeliness of inspectors in identifying and ensuring abatement of worksite hazards.”

In a response, OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Amanda Edens wrote that the agency agrees with and accepts each of the recommendations.

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