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  OSHA Cracks Down on Persistent Violators
 
The new enhanced enforcement
program adds muscle to OSHA's enforcement practices.

by Bill Wright
OSHA's new enhanced enforcement program provides stricter measures against employers who expose their workers to serious safety and health hazards and continue to disregard worker safety and health regulations. OSHA Administrator John L. Henshaw said the program strengthens OSHA's ability to crack down on "bad players who continually defy workplace safety rules."

The new program strengthens five specific areas: follow-up inspections, programmed inspections, public awareness, settlements, and federal court enforcement.

It provides on-site follow-up inspections at all establishments that receive an OSHA citation with one or more "high-gravity citations"—issued when an employer's violations indicate the greatest potential danger to employees. This includes the most severe serious or willful violations, repeated violations at the same workplace, failure-to-abate notices, and serious or willful violations related to a fatality. OSHA area directors may conduct follow-up inspections at other sites to verify that employers have corrected hazards.

The new initiative focuses on companies doing business in many locations, perhaps under more than one name. OSHA compliance and safety health officers will now record the name of the overall corporate entity during all inspections. When they find a site with extremely serious infractions, they will crosscheck with other OSHA offices so other sites under the same corporation may also be targeted for inspection.

"This will give OSHA's field offices a better targeting tool so they can focus our most comprehensive inspections on the employers who have shown that they don't care about worker safety and health," said Richard Fairfax, OSHA's director of Enforcement Programs.

OSHA will mail a copy of all high-gravity citations and notifications of penalties to the employer's corporate headquarters. The agency will continue to issue local and national press releases to increase public awareness of its enforcement actions.

The enhanced enforcement program strengthens requirements for settlement agreements for the most serious citations. OSHA may now require the employer to hire consultants to develop a process to change the safety and health culture in the facility, and to apply the agreement corporate-wide, as needed. The agency may require employers to submit their logs of injuries and illnesses to OSHA on a regular basis, and to consent to OSHA inspections based on the report. In addition, OSHA will seek to have settlements for these cases filed with the courts and request contempt-of-court orders if needed to force recalcitrant companies to comply.

Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao said the new policy impacts only the most severe offenders of workers' right to a safe and healthful workplace—and that these employers are the exception to the rule. "The majority of employers in our country consider the health and safety of their workers a priority and strive to do their utmost to ensure their well-being," she said.

"Still, there are those who, despite OSHA's enforcement and outreach efforts, continually disregard their very basic obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. This enhanced enforcement policy is meant for them."

"No worker should be injured or killed on the job and no employer should ignore their responsibility to obey the law," agreed Henshaw. "This policy will focus on the most extreme violators and will put more tenacity and teeth in our enforcement practices. Our goal is to assure compliance and a safe workplace for all workers." JSHQ

Wright is a public affairs specialist in OSHA's Office of Public Affairs, Washington, D.C.