IG's Report Faults OSHA's Enhanced Enforcement Program

The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General has issued a damning report about OSHA's management of its Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP), which began in September 2003 but was revised Jan. 1, 2008, to target violators with prior fatalities and similar violations. The March 31 report says EEP was mismanaged so badly that OSHA did not comply with EEP's requirements for 97 percent of sampled cases qualifying for it. No appropriate enforcement action was taken in 29 cases, the IG found -- and those employers subsequently experienced 20 fatalities, of which 14 deaths shared similar violations, the report states.

The IG's office audited 325 federal inspections conducted between Oct. 1, 2003 and March 31, 2008, for the Atlanta, Chicago, and Dallas regions; the total included 282 EEP qualifying inspections and 43 that did not meet EEP qualifications. The analysis of the revised program covered Jan. 1, 2008, to Nov. 19, 2008.

The report says the decision to target violations with a similar history reduced the number of cases and "increased the risk that employers with multiple EEP qualifying and/or fatality cases may not be property designated due to the lack of quality history data. As a result," it says, "fewer employers may be subjected to EEP enhanced enforcement actions and may incur more fatalities before designation occurs."

It also says, "While we cannot conclude that enhanced enforcement would prevent subsequent fatalities, full and proper application of EEP procedures may have deterred and abated workplace hazards at the worksites of 45 employers where 58 subsequent fatalities occurred."

One of the report's findings is that OSHA has no specific criteria on when to issue an EEP-Alert Memorandum for employers with sites across regions and/or states and has issued memoranda on only nine employers to date. (One of these was BP Products of North America.) The IG's sample of cases contained 22 employers with multiple EEP qualifying and/or fatality cases in more than one region, however.

The current leader of OSHA, Deputy Assistant Secretary Donald Shalhoub, responded to the draft report with concern over the charge that appropriate management emphasis was lacking. He said EEP is relatively new, OSHA is aware of its shortcomings and trying to address them, and the agency believes including data on subsequent deaths may lead to an inference that failure to conduct a workplace inspection resulted in a fatality, "an inference that OSHA finds to be both misleading and unfair," the report notes.

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